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Why More Youth Baseball Pitchers Are Getting Surgery

Jason Scott

A larger group of young baseball players are going under the knife, and some surgeons and coaches are working to combat the issue.

Many of the injuries that lead to surgery are caused by overuse, mostly among pitchers. Young players with damaged ligaments in the elbow, torn labrums, or injuries to the rotator cuff are common, and many undergo Tommy John surgery or other procedures to repair the damage.

A study in the American Journal of Sports Medicine last year found that older teens, specifically ages 15 to 19, accounted for more Tommy John surgical procedures than any other age group.

In 2014, a group of medical experts worked with the commissioner of Major League Baseball to develop a set of pitching guidelines called Pitch Smart, which are broken down by age. Most national youth baseball programs have adopted the guidelines, which provide recommendations for pitch counts and rest. Little League has had its own version of similar guidelines in place since 2007.

Dr. James Andrews, an orthopedic surgeon and chairman of the board of the American Sports Medicine Institute, has worked to help develop the pitching guidelines. But despite the guidelines being widely adopted, Andrews told the Wall Street Journal that he expects baseball injuries to the shoulder and elbow have increased five-to sevenfold since 2000. 

From ABDr. James Andrews Targets Youth Sports Injuries

So what’s going on to lead to the increase in injuries?

Too many youth baseball players are playing too much baseball.

By playing on more than one team at a time, or by playing baseball year-round, young players may be overtaxing their growing bodies.

From AB: HS Adds Incentives to Revive the Multisport Athlete

“We recommend that they not specialize in one sport until they’re a senior in high school,” Andrews said.

Some coaches are adopting policies that they hope will protect their players.

One coach, Andrew Solomon of the Pearland Little League team in Texas, makes sure every player on his team gets on the mound. 

“A lot of teams rely way too heavily on two or three kids to pitch and those kids are getting overpitched from a pretty young age,” Solomon said.

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