Baseball is considered one of the safest sports in America, but that doesn’t mean baseball players don’t get injured. In fact, one of the most prevalent injuries for young ball players is to the shoulder and elbow.
A study by the American Journal of Sports Medicine that young baseball pitchers who throw curveballs have an increased risk of having shoulder and elbow pain in the future. The study followed 476 youth pitchers (ages 9to14) for one season. The results of this study showed 52 percent of pitchers increased their individual risk of shoulder pain by throwing curveballs. As a result, the American Sports Medical Institute (ASMI) has urged young pitchers to stop throwing curveballs to decrease the risk of shoulder and elbow injury.
The ASMI is now recommending that young baseball pitchers avoid throwing curveballs at an early age because a youth pitcher “may not have enough physical development, neuromuscular control, and proper coaching instruction to throw a curveball with good mechanics.”
Dr. Ken Schiffman, a shoulder surgeon at Hinsdale Orthopaedics agrees. “Throwing curveballs before a pitcher has reached puberty is potentially dangerous to the pitcher’s shoulder and elbow,” he says. “The abuse and improper mechanics of throwing a curveball can be damaging to ligaments and potentially ruin a pitcher’s career. It can result in Tommy John surgery, which is the injury to the ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) is located on the inside of the elbow joint”
The UCL is an extremely important ligament when doing a throwing motion. Tommy John surgery is a procedure that is used to reconstruct the UCL, by using a tendon from the forearm or other areas of the body to recreate the damaged ligament. This procedure, which has come to plague pitchers participating in high school, collegiate and professional levels, was named after former White Sox pitcher, Tommy John. In 1974, John became the first person to undergo a successful reconstruction of his UCL. Even though his doctor said he would never pitch again. He returned to professional baseball to play four more seasons before retiring..
Dr. Schiffman recommends these tips to help youth baseball pitchers avoid injury:
- Coaches/Parents should listen carefully when a pitcher complains about pain in his/her arm
- Pitch count regulation in youth
- Pitchers should not throw curveballs/sliders until he or she has reached puberty and bones have properly matured
- Before practicing curveballs, etc. a pitcher should focus on the proper mechanics, a fast fastball, change-up, control.
- Pitchers should not pitch for more than one team in a given season
- For at least three months a year, a pitcher should rest his or her arm.
If you have a question for Dr. Schiffman about the correct way to pitch or elbow injuries, please respond to the blog in the space below, or email Dr. Schiffman at firstname.lastname@example.org.