In recent years, Tommy John surgery, which is repair of the ulnar collateral ligament, has become alarmingly prevalent among Major League Baseball players. “There’s kind of an epidemic right now, with the increase of these surgeries,” explains Matthew Daggy MD, a Sports Medicine doctor at McCullough-Hyde Memorial Hospital.
What this likely means is that excessive pitching from youth and high school baseball is catching up.
Fortunately, Dr. Daggy says preventing overuse injuries down the road is possible, but it takes help from a child’s parent and coach.
#1. Make Sure Your Child Gets Adequate Rest
“What you’ll commonly see is a lot of the best kids on the team do the majority of pitching for their team. This is compounded when they pitch for multiple teams,” Dr. Daggy explains. “They’ll pitch a certain number of pitches with one team and then the coach won’t be aware they pitched the previous day with another team, so they’ll throw that kid in.”
To combat this, many organizations have put different pitch count guidelines in place to ensure that kids aren’t overusing and stressing those muscles. It is generally recommended that young children do not pitch on multiple teams. If the situation cannot be avoided, however, coaches for both teams should be in constant communication to track the number of pitches being thrown.
Once the pitcher has been removed, he can continue to play, but should not be put in as a catcher. Catchers are prone to developing overuse injuries because they actually throw as much or even more than the pitcher. So awareness of how much your child is playing – and speaking up if you think they’re not resting enough – is crucial.
#2. Encourage Your Athlete to be Well-Rounded
These days, many athletes and their parents get caught up in specializing in one sport too early. Participating in the same sport year-round puts too much stress on young, developing muscles, bones and ligaments. Dr. Daggy and his colleagues generally recommend that athletes take three months off their primary sport each year. So baseball players should avoid playing a sport using the same mechanics as baseball, like tennis, and instead, opt for another sport, like soccer or basketball in the offseason.
Cross-training in different sports is also beneficial for many athletes. He actually credits this approach to his collegiate running career. “I got a scholarship to the University of Cincinnati and I didn’t start running track until my junior year of high school. So if you’re a good, well-rounded athlete, you’re going to be successful.”
#3. Know When to See a Doctor
Kids who are playing little league don’t typically have pain, like adults would. “If a kid complains of pain, we’d want to remove them,” Dr. Daggy says. “If they go back a couple days later and the pain reoccurs when they’re trying to do the activity, that’s a good indicator that it’s time to see a doctor for it.”
Additionally, if you’re a parent, you may notice your child is “off.” The child may not be pitching the same because he is trying to compensate for weakness. Pitching through weakness can sometimes cause an athlete to change his or her mechanics. If you notice a decrease in control, accuracy, or speed, that can be a sign that your child needs more rest or further evaluation by a doctor.