With youth baseball leagues kicking into high gear it seemed like a good time to write about an issue that is crucial to overuse injury prevention in our young baseball athletes:little league pitch counts. It is important for parents and coaches to remember that kids are not just little adults. Their muscles, tendons, ligaments and especially the growth centers of their bones do not have the same resilience that develops as our bodies mature. Too often youth baseball pitchers injure their shoulder and elbow, sometimes permanently, by trying to imitate their major league heroes.
The epidemic of youth pitching injuries related to overuse has been well documented but it was not until 2007 that a plan was put into place by little league baseball to try to stem the tide. Prior to this point players would often wear out their arms by playing year round, pitching multiple games in the same day, going from playing pitcher on one day to catcher the next, and by avoiding proper rest in between starts. Couple this with the normal pressures placed on the players by their coaches and parents as well as their own desire to play despite pain, it led to a recipe for disaster.
The guidelines that were put in place have led to drastic changes in the amount of pitches that a player can throw on a given day and maybe more importantly, the amount of rest needed to recover prior to the next start. Little league baseball should also be commended for putting in place designated scorekeepers whose job it is to keep track of pitches thrown and to notify the team when the player has reached his count and should be replaced. Happily these guidelines have already led to an increase in awareness by the players, coaches and parents which has already started to decrease the rate of overuse injuries.
Hopefully with continued awareness and education from organizations like the STOP sports injury prevention program, rates of shoulder and elbow injury in little league pitchers will continue to drop and our children will be able to enjoy healthy and fun competition this summer and for many to come.
-Ben Thompson, MD
Benjamin Thompson, MD
Dr. Thompson is an award-winning surgeon, with team physician experience working with the Pawtucket Red Sox, the Lowell Spinners, the Pro Bull Riders Tour and Worcester Polytechnical Institute football team.