Shoulder and elbow injuries have increased dramatically in recent years among young baseball players. Many factors have been suggested as risks for these injuries. Pitching all year without rest, ignoring pitch counts and other examples of overuse are most commonly suggested. Poor throwing mechanics are often implicated as well. Is throwing a curveball harmful for young pitchers?
Is throwing a curveball risky?
Probably the most controversial “risk factor” has been the curveball. For years, orthopaedic surgeons and baseball organizations have recommended that young kids avoid throwing the curveball and other breaking pitches until their bodies mature. The recommendation largely stems from the opinion that throwing a curveball places unnecessary stress on the growing shoulder and elbow.
Does throwing a curveball really increase the risk for shoulder or elbow injury in young baseball pitches, though?
A 2013 study by W. Jeffrey Grantham, MD and others in the journal Sports Health tried to use data from published scientific studies to understand the role of the curveball on the risk of injury. The included 10 biomechanical studies and 5 studies on pitchers from the youth level to the professional leagues.
After analyzing these 15 studies, the authors concluded that the data did not prove that throwing a curveball leads to an increased risk of injury.
My thoughts on kids throwing a curveball
I’ve seen a number of young pitchers with shoulder or elbow injuries in my career. I’ve found that it can be hard to find a single cause of injury. The same kids throwing curve balls at age 10 are the ones pitching for more than one team in the same season and pitching year round. That overuse might be just as important, if not more so, than throwing breaking pitches. It’s hard to truly know.
Grantham WJ, Iyengar JJ, Byram IR, Ahmad CS. The curveball as a risk factor for injury: A systematic review. Sports Health: A Multidisciplinary Approach. January 2015 7:19-26.