By: Jayden Racca
It is understandable for MLB pitchers to deal with serious injuries requiring surgery after throwing over 90 mph fastballs. However, more and more youth baseball players are experiencing similar problems beginning at extremely early ages.
According to a multi-source article in PubMed.gov, “It is estimated that between 26% and 35% of youth baseball pitchers experience either elbow or shoulder pain each year.”
The first cause that these statistics can be accredited to is poor pitching mechanics during the stages of youth development.
Gary J. Calabrese of the International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy said, “The pitching motion is comprised of six distinct phases, each with unique, but specific, movement requirements. Errors in movement during any phase may contribute to excessive stress on the shoulder and elbow during the throwing motion.”
Another cause of these injuries is the dismissal of rest and recovery. Youth pitchers can be seen throwing long strainful innings year-round with little to no offseason.
Player Development Coordinator for Coastal Carolina University Baseball Matthew Pepin said, “Youth players and coaches do not put priority on proper arm care and pacing themselves. They throw as much as they want whenever they want, which is unhealthy.”
Unlike past generations when children played a different sport each season, baseball players today are commonly locked into their single sport, training year-round.
However, according to Mount Saint Mary College Athletic Trainer Elizabeth Schmidt, this is not a beneficial thing.
“It is less likely that you develop overuse injuries in baseball if you incorporate other sports as well in the offseason,” Shmidt said. “This form of cross training helps to develop a full array of developing muscles.”
Despite there being several issues that can be seen as the cause of these youth injuries, an abundance of steps have already been taken by Little League Baseball.
This begins with the implementation of pitch counts. The pitch count is a system which determines how much rest a player must take depending on both their age and how many pitches they have thrown on a given day.
For example, the Little League Baseball website states that “if a player (14 years or under) pitches 66 or more pitches in a day, four calendar days of rest must be observed.”
It is the general consensus that a pitch count is best for the young arms of the future and former high school pitcher Matthew Langdon agrees with this extra precaution.
“I think it is important that we protect youth arms so that they are able to maintain longevity throughout the course of their careers,” said Langdon. “If it were me, any little league pitching success that I had would not have been worth it. I would have rather played for longer as opposed to having a successful couple years of youth pitching.”
However, youth pitchers themselves may view things from a different perspective.
Fourteen year-old pitcher Jaren Racca who is coming off of a year of rest due to arm pain is among those unphased by any setbacks. Racca, who has had an extremely successful career, believes that “it would not have been worth it to throw less or limit my throwing throughout my career. I do not believe that an inning limit is worth the prevention of injuries.”
According to Schmidt, “the majority of this pain occurs as the body goes through puberty.” With this being said, it just so happens that players begin to move up to playing on the larger sized field at this age.
Pepin places emphasis on the point of building natural strength in order to prevent injuries. He said, “13 is the age you go to a bigger field so young athletes need to take the proper precautions to build up their arm strength to adjust to these changes. PlyoCare balls are a great option in order to build arm strength and get it down to a science rather than just harmful repetitive throwing.”
Despite the desire of coaches and players to be competing to the utmost extent at all times, many believe that it is simply not worth the risk of harming one’s body or career in order to reach these short term goals.
Langdon shares that he would tell the youth that “pitching is a marathon. Focus on yourself and your health. Yeah you want to play today, but if you want to have a sustainable career, then pay attention to the little things.”