Young Athletes at High Risk for Pitching and Throwing Injuries
October 07, 2003
By Hannah Clark for Shoulder1
It’s no secret that most kids who play sports are not going to play professionally. But kids who start out as baseball pitchers may be even less likely to make sports a career. That’s because a lot of kids who start out pitching get injured along the way, derailing a future with the sport and causing painful problems for years to come.
There are four main factors that contribute to pitching injuries:
Immature skeletal structure
Throwing too many pitches
Throwing complicated pitches at a young age
Improper pitching mechanics
Luckily, many pitching injuries are preventable. Learning correct throwing techniques and properly pacing your child’s pitching progress can greatly reduce the risk of injury.
Immature skeletal structure
Conventional wisdom says that "kids heal faster than adults." To a certain extent, that’s true. If a child and adult both suffer the same ordinary sprain, the child will probably get better faster. But when kids are growing, they are susceptible to different types of injuries that can be much more complicated.
Kids and teenagers who get injured can fracture their growth plates. These injuries, when diagnosed, may require a more intensive treatment regimen than an ordinary sprain. When growth plates are injured, bone growth can slow or stop completely. Often, however, these injuries aren’t diagnosed at all, which can lead to more extensive problems along the way, including chronic pain or even arthritis.
Overuse: a growing problem
Practice, practice, practice. While practice is the best way to improve, it’s definitely possible to have too much of a good thing. Repeating the same motion over and over can put a serious strain on the joint, especially in kids’ growing bodies. A pitcher doesn’t have to have any sort of accident, fall or mistake to suffer a serious injury. In fact, some studies have shown that more and more injuries are caused simply by overuse.
Youth leagues generally regulate the number of innings a child can pitch. But the number of pitches per game is more significant, and it’s often unregulated at the amateur level. Major League pitchers don’t usually exceed 100 pitches a game. Doctors and physical therapists have different recommendations for Little Leaguers. Some say young players should not throw more than 70 pitches in a game; others suggest that you take the child’s age and multiply it by five.
Finding the perfect pitch
What kids pitch and the way they throw the ball are two other important factors that can determine their risk for injury. Certain types of pitches are harder on the body than others. Players 13 and under should focus on fastballs and change-ups. After that, doctors have different opinions over exactly which pitches should be learned at which ages. Knuckleballs are relatively easy on the body. The split-fingered fastball, on the other hand, is dangerous for kids. Curve balls may not cause problems for young teens, if they’re thrown correctly.
But a badly thrown curve ball is more dangerous than a badly thrown fastball. That’s why it’s crucial that kids learn proper mechanics as soon as they start to pitch, no matter what they’re throwing. Good mechanics spread the stress of a pitch more evenly over the entire body. Bad mechanics will put too much stress on the joints. This can cause problems several years down the line.
Prevention and treatment
There are a number of ways to decrease the risk of pitching injury. Educate yourself and your child about body mechanics, the proper ages for different pitches, and the appropriate amount of pitching. Talk to your child’s coach about it, and check with a doctor or physical therapist as well. You may want to limit the number of teams your child is on at one time. Make sure he or she is both warmed up and stretched before each workout, practice or game.
You can treat minor injuries at home with the "RICE" system:
Rest the injured area
Ice it as soon as possible after the injury, and every few hours following
Compress it with a bandage
Elevate the affected area
If the pain persists for a few days, however, see a doctor. And never tell a child to play through pain.
With enough education, training and proper pacing, your child can look forward to a long and prosperous pitching career.
Last updated: 07-Oct-03