From that 1st pitch to a throw from outfield to home plate, throwing is a big part of baseball. Shoulder and elbow growth plate injuries are common in young athletes who play a high volume of games each season and throughout the year. Coaches and parents of young baseball players often have questions about these throwing injuries and how to prevent them. Below are 9 tips for preventing injuries.
Preparation for the Season.
To reduce the risk of injury, conditioning should begin before the first practice. Kids who are in shape at the beginning of the season typically perform at a higher level and are more likely to remain injury free. Take time before the season to get back into throwing using an interval throwing program. Gradually increase the amount of throws and the intensity of those throws leading up to the season.
Your child should also concentrate on exercises that improve flexibility and provide upper body and core strengthening. Running drills are also helpful to get kids in shape for the season ahead.
Time to Warmup!
Like any sport, it is important to warm up and stretch before every practice and game. Make sure you vary the exercises in your warm-ups, stretching the upper and lower body as well as your hips and back. Warm-up prior to throwing don’t just throw to warmup.
Mechanics, Mechanics, Mechanics.
Teach kids the proper mechanics before they ever start to pitch. Young pitchers should be focused on how efficiently they throw not on how hard or fast they throw, so avoid using a radar gun. Throwing hard with poor or improper form almost always predisposes a player to injury.
Put Me in Coach, I’m Ready to Play!
Young players often see arm soreness as simply being part of the game. This is wrong. Soreness often alters mechanics as young athletes alter mechanics to avoid painful arm positions. Encourage young athletes to tell their coaches and parents about shoulder or elbow pain. Early intervention can mean the difference between a quick return and a season ending injury.
So What Is a Pitch Count?
Pitch count is the total number of pitches thrown during a game. Limits are used to reduce the amount of stress placed on a pitcher’s arm. While various pitch count guidelines have been developed by different baseball organizations, the version available at Nationwide Children’s Sports Medicine is most appropriate for young pitchers. It takes into account the age of the thrower and includes limits on the number of pitches that should be made during each game as well as the maximum number of pitches that should be thrown in a week, during the entire season and even throughout the year. View our pitch count guidelines below.
What Pitches Are Appropriate for Young Throwers?
Young pitchers should always start by mastering a fastball pitch followed by a change-up. Once a pitcher is closer to skeletal maturity and has adequate arm strength and control, only then should they consider learning to throw curveballs and other breaking pitches. Make sure someone who knows and understands proper pitching mechanics is teaching your young athlete. Improper technique can place stress on your child’s arm, causing predisposition to elbow and shoulder injuries.
Player Substitutions, Making the Right Change.
It is common for a coach to “take out” a pitcher once he has reached his allotted pitch count or if the game situation calls for a change. If the pitcher continues to play in that game, he should not be placed at shortstop or 3rd base where long hard throws are required on an already fatigued arm. Pitchers should never be catchers on the same team. This combination results in too many throws and increases their risk of injury. The safest place is moving to 2nd or 1st base where the throws are shorter and less stress is placed on the arm.
Knowing When to Rest.
The rest period for young athletes differs based on age can be found in our pitch count guidelines below. Knowing how long to rest young pitchers after they throw is key to giving their arms effective recovery between outings. Pitchers should also ice their shoulders and elbows for 20 minutes after they throw to reduce the inflammation associated with activity and speed recovery.
My Child Plays in Multiple Leagues.
Players sometimes join multiple teams in order to get more experience. When this happens, make sure your athlete gets proper rest. Overall body/arm fatigue CAN alter mechanics and lead to injury! If you must play on more than 1 team at once, consider pitching on one team and playing a fielding position on the other. Also, take at least 3 months off every year from competitive pitching to ensure optimal recovery and allow for normal growth processes.
Dr. Reno Ravindran is a board-certified family medicine physician and recently completed his sports medicine fellowship at Nationwide Children’s Hospital. He completed his residency at The Ohio State University.
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