Learn how to prevent overuse injuries in youth baseball pitchers.
| 3 min read
In the late 1990s, Dr. Glenn Fleisig and Dr. James Andrews began to notice a surge of injuries that led to Tommy John surgeries in young baseball players. The surgery – needed to repair an injured elbow – replaces the torn ligament with a healthy one. It takes about a year to recover. Over half of Tommy John surgeries were being performed on high school players.
Drs. Fleisig and Andrews launched an advisory committee with the goal of preventing arm injuries through safe pitching guidelines. “The doctors saw that one of the biggest risk factors for these injuries was caused by overuse of throwing at the youth level,” says Sarah Wood, assistant director of education for USA Baseball, which partnered with Major League Baseball to create the Pitch Smart site. “Overuse affects kids later in life because they’ve been throwing too much, for too long.”
Some other factors that were found to cause injury were throwing curveballs/sliders at a young age and single-sport specialization – a.k.a. all baseball, all the time.
Today, the Pitch Smart site has grown to include the doctors’ guidelines for pitchers by age, resources for coaches, parents and athletes, videos and a free online course for coaches.
Here are some of the key points parents and coaches should know.
Limiting the amount of pitches kids throw in one game is the best way to reduce the chance of an overuse injury. Pitch Smart recommends that 7- and 8-year-olds only throw 50 pitches daily, with a rest of two days in between pitching. Nine- and 10-year-olds increase to 75 pitches max per game, with 4 days of rest after. The number of recommended pitches increases with the player’s age. Pitch Smart provides pitch count limits for ages 7 to 22 on their website.
Often, it’s the coach’s responsibility. “Whether it’s with a mechanical pitch counter, an app, or pen and paper, coaches should be keeping track of all pitch counts,” says Wood. “Athletes should be aware of their own pitch counts, especially if playing on multiple teams.” That said, says Woods, young players should only play on one team at a time.
Kids are encouraged to play other sports and not specialize in one until they are older. Playing something other than baseball “gets different muscle groups working and helps to avoid overuse,” says Wood. It also gives kids a much-needed break from the mound and prevents burnout. Pitch Smart guidelines recommend taking at least 3 to 4 months off each year.
Behind the plate is no place for a pitcher, according to Pitch Smart guidelines. “The catcher has to throw back just as many pitches that have been thrown,” says Wood. It’s a position pitchers should avoid in order to keep the risk of an overuse injury low. May we recommend right field?
Today, there are 34 baseball programs who have achieved Pitch Smart’s “Full Compliance” at the national level and more than 130 state and regional programs. These programs actively promote the Pitch Smart guidelines by including them in their coaches manuals and providing Pitch Smart resources on their web sites.
Other programs choose to be “Select Compliant.” These programs follow Pitch Smart guidelines, have Pitch Smart information on their website, and develop a plan to show progress towards the adoption of all standards of “Full Pitch Smart Compliance” in coming years.
It’s something for parents of pitchers to keep in mind when they’re signing up for baseball season.