DETROIT – Pitching is a big part of baseball, no matter what level. But with mounting evidence of overuse elbow injuries in recent years, pitchers are under closer scrutiny from coaches than ever before for any signs of potential arm wear and tear.
Eric Makhni, M.D., a sports medicine physician and surgeon at Henry Ford Hospital, says steps can be taken by the baseball community and parents to prevent and reduce the risk of these injuries in youth pitchers especially.
“Pitching year-round, inadequate rest between seasons and pitching in multiple leagues all have been linked to an increase in elbow and arm injuries,” Dr. Makhni says. “These issues are increasingly magnified for youth pitchers because their body isn’t physically developed to handle that volume of use.”
Emerging technology has shown potential for flagging early warning signs. A Henry Ford study led by Dr. Makhni and published in the December issue of Journal of Arthroscopic and Related Surgery found that a wearable sleeve sensor device was shown to be effective for measuring torque in the elbow during the pitching motion.
“Excessive torque could be a precursor to injury,” Dr. Makhni says.
Dr. Makhni says these recommendations from the American Sports Medicine Institute can prevent and reduce the risk of injury:
- Avoid overuse. Don’t pitch on multiple teams with overlapping seasons. Follow limits for pitch counts and days rest. In 2017, the Michigan High School Athletic Association issued specific pitch count rules, mandating that pitchers are limited to throwing 105 pitches in one day and can’t pitch for three days if they throw more than 75 pitches in a game.
- Warm Up. Proper strength conditioning involves the whole body – the upper body, core and legs.
- Hydrate. Drink plenty of water to keep the body hydrated.
- Be vocal. Pain and soreness are signs that something is wrong, not battlefield scars to try and pitch through. Pitchers should be encouraged by their coaches and parents to speak up freely at the first sign of any shoulder or elbow pain.
- Play multiple sports. Take advantage of other sports at your school to give your arm a rest and allow for normal growth processes.