In honor of Youth Sports Safety Month, I wanted to answer a question about young athletes. The following question is one I received after the STOP Sports Injuries tweetchat about youth pitching injuries.
Is there anything pitchers in this age group can do to make sure they don’t injure their arms or shoulders?
Great question on a topic that I am very passionate! I love the fact that my medical school has a Twitter account, by the way.
There are so many ideas I can share to answer this question. I’ll include links to some of the posts I’ve written about them. For purposes of this post, though, I’ll focus on three suggestions.
Shoulder, upper body, and core conditioning
The throwing motion places quite a bit of stress on a pitcher’s arm. Keeping the supporting muscles strong will take some of the stress off the bones and ligaments. Daily exercises to strengthen the rotator cuff, deltoid, wrist flexors, wrist extensors, and even the core and lower body are important. Pitchers should work with a physical therapist or athletic trainer knowledgeable in pitching injuries to create an appropriate exercise regimen. Doing these exercises every day can help prevent arm injuries over the course of a season.
Avoiding showcase events
Without a doubt, the opportunity to pitch in front of scouts appeals to young athletes and their parents. Often these events are held toward the ends of the seasons or on weekends after the kids have pitched several times during the week. To impress the scouts, the young pitchers might try to throw even harder than normal despite fatigue or soreness. In theory at least, the risk of shoulder and elbow injuries occurring in these events would be higher than with regular outings.
If a kid stays healthy and pitches well in high school, college or pro scouts will probably hear about him anyway. If parents and coaches do want a pitcher to participate in a showcase, they should pick one earlier in the season and give him plenty of time to rest before the event.
Stop pitching throughout the year to prevent youth pitching injuries
I have written several times about single-sport specialization and discussed it on my podcast. The shoulder and elbow of young kids just cannot withstand the stresses of thousands of pitches without a break to rest. Despite the conflicting data on the risks of breaking pitches at a young age, almost all studies show higher injury rates with too much pitching.
I would argue that young pitchers – even high school pitchers – should pitch a maximum of eight or nine months a year. He doesn’t have to sit on the couch the rest of the year, though. He can play another sport that doesn’t stress the arm. Or he can lift weights and focus on cardiovascular conditioning to prepare for the upcoming season.
I hear repeatedly from parents that they worry their son will fall behind other pitchers if he doesn’t pitch every season. I doubt there is much truth to those fears if a young pitcher has the talent needed to succeed anyway. But pitching all year without rest increases the chance of serious shoulder and elbow injuries, which will definitely harm a kid’s chances of pitching in college or in the pros.