Pitch count crucial for stars of tomorrow
I may have seen more problems this past summer with the shoulder and elbow among young softball and baseball players than ever in my career. “Little League Shoulder” and “Little League Elbow” are catch-all terms used to describe pain and dysfunction that is far more complex than simple names might imply.
Baseball and softball seasons have been over for a while for almost everybody. Even the World Series has been played, short as it was.
Yes, I know about “fall ball” and it does seem like preparations for spring seasons are just around the corner, but my point is about to be that now is the most crucial time to do what is necessary to protect young arms during the lull between games and serious training.
One of the many journals that I take is Sports Health. An article entitled “Prevention of Elbow Injuries in Youth Baseball Pitchers” in the most recent edition confirmed that now is the time to address this topic.
The authors of this piece described the problems leading to shoulder and elbow problems among baseball players (but really, among all throwing athletes). The biggest risk factor is pitch quantity. A function of that is pitches per game, innings pitched, rest between outings and pitching on multiple teams. Pitchers that also play catcher must also count those throws against their pitch count.
We know that throwing mechanics are huge. Bad mechanics mean excess stress on the shoulder and elbow and sooner later something is going to get hurt.
So I asked Josh Pitts, pitching instructor at Dr. K’s Baseball & Softball Academy located next door to the clinic where I spend most of my time in the Cherokee Athletic Facility, what he sees as the biggest problems in throwing mechanics.
No. 1: Throwing with a “short arm,” which mainly means leading with the elbow during the throwing motion. Following close behind are bad habits in their throwing motion, throwing with their arm instead of using their whole body, lack of leg strength or failure to use the strength that they have, and balance issues. All those are correctable with proper instruction.
We’ve known for a long time that throwing athletes need to have strong supportive musculature to be able to throw without injury. We also know that it is most important to have good strength in those muscles that decelerate the arm. But most people don’t realize how important leg and core strength are both to performance and to injury prevention.
I have long railed against teaching too young kids how to throw a curve ball but Josh and the authors of the article cited above don’t see that as a huge problem. Sure, if a youngster is going to be taught how to throw a curve, they need to learn proper technique, but it may be more simply pitch count, innings pitched, and rest between outings that determines injury rates than exactly what pitches are being thrown.
I am still dismayed when a 12-year-old comes into my office and claims to be able to throw five different pitches. I will go on the record here as saying that no 12-year-old pitcher in the world needs to be trying to throw that many different pitches.
That kid was also in my office for a reason.
Joe Black, PT, DPT, SCS, ATC is a physical therapist and athletic trainer at Total Rehabilitation and is Manager of Outpatient Rehabilitation for Blount Memorial Hospital. Write to him at (firstname.lastname@example.org)