There’s no denying that there is a lot of pressure in youth sports. We have an unparalleled level of attention on performance and status – whether the goal is to excel locally or to catch the eye of a scout with a next-level program. Sometimes, this pressure can lead to a greater likelihood to push our young athletes – how long can they go? How frequently can they pitch at this level? The reality is that injuries still happen. This is not something malicious or intended. However, it does happen – but why?
Why do we see so many youth pitching injuries?
Pitching itself is a demanding task. We have to appreciate the beauty of such a dynamic movement but also respect the science behind it. The necessary rotation at the shoulder, the torque on the structures on the inner aspect of the elbow, the mobility of the hips and the power generated from pushoff at the hip. When pushing a young pitcher’s endurance, we often consider the shoulder and/or elbow, but in all reality, we have to consider the metabolic outcome. After throwing 50 max-effort fastballs, the body’s anaerobic energy systems have likely been pushed a bit, leading to reduced metabolic efficiency. Muscular fatigue also comes into play depending on the levels of conditioning and training to prep for pitching. As these cumulative effects take place, they add up. Maybe the hips begin to fatigue first, so your pitcher starts trying to overcompensate with force from the arm.
More often than not, we also see many youth baseball players aren't just playing for one team – we've seen athletes in the clinic playing for as many as four or five teams throughout the course of the year, and we frequently see players that may pitch for two or three different teams during the same season. We regularly provide our parents, coaches, and athletes with resources like this one from the American Sports Medicine Institute that provide evidence-informed resources like pitching limits, recommended rest before the next time on the mound, and ages wherein it may be more appropriate to teach and introduce new pitches.
How to minimize pitching injury risk
The good news is that the human body is resilient. Appropriate off-season and preseason conditioning can help to prepare the body to face these physical stresses. Regardless of this, rest is still an incredibly important element to longevity, recovery, and performance. Fortunately, a lot of study has been done on youth pitching injuries, and there are some solid guidelines to help reduce the likelihood of injury with pitching. Many in the industry may advocate for pitching, arm training, and mobility work as a big component of training for pitching. However, there is good evidence for things like sticking to a pitch limit to help battle injuries. Additionally, some correlational data has pointed to things like hip and lower body strength deficits as being associated with arm injuries in pitchers. In our clinical experience, managing pitchers takes a whole-body, comprehensive approach, as well as well-structured training both in-season and in the off-season.
Do you have a young one slinging fastballs at home? Toying with curveballs as a part of their arsenal but want to make sure they’re limiting injury risk? We offer a lot of experience with baseball athletes, from youth baseball up to pro-level ball and are here to help, whether it's helping your injured pitcher get back on the mound or answering questions on how to best prepare for season and to try to minimize injury risks.