The American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) warns that millions of little leaguers are putting themselves at risk for injury in their attempt to throw the fastest and farthest.
It has been estimated that 2.2 million children between the ages of 4 and 16 are participating in baseball annually. Kids between the ages of 9 and 14 who throw breaking balls, pitch in showcases to display their skills and fundamentals, or, more importantly, pitch too frequently without adequate rest, are the most vulnerable to injury.
Pitcher’s Elbow is a chronic inflammation of the growth plate on the elbow joint, which manifests itself as pain and swelling inside the elbow. Approximately 50% of little leaguers ages 9 to 14 will experience elbow pain. Those who continue to pitch through the pain can eventually cause the growth plate to separate from the joint, requiring surgery to re-attach it.
Routinely players will go from a game in one league to a practice or game in another league and pitch on back-to-back days. If coaches on both teams are unaware of the fact that the pitcher just pitched for another league, there will be a misrepresentation of league pitch counts and a subsequent increase to one’s risk for injury.
It is important for players and parents to let their coaches know if they have been pitching in multiple events and if they are experiencing pain.
The following risk factors contribute to pitcher’s elbow:
- Age. Youth baseball players are at greater risk because their elbow joint (bones, growth plates, and ligaments) are not fully developed and are more susceptible to overuse injuries.
- Pitching too many games. The number of games pitched should be carefully monitored and follow the league’s pitch count rules. If pain occurs before the pitch count limit is reached, then the player should stop immediately. Rotating pitchers during games is a good idea to ensure adequate rest is given to each pitcher.
- Curveballs and breaking pitches. Both of these types of pitches appear to put more stress on the growth plate than other types of pitches.
- Improper mechanics. Proper throwing mechanics decreases forces on the elbow joint.
How can a physical therapist help?
Physical therapists are experts in restoring and improving mobility and motion in people’s lives, and eliminating pain. For young baseball players, this means a physical therapist can work with you to help prevent pitcher’s elbow from occurring, and recover if it has occurred.
In addition to following the guidelines for pitch counts and recommendations for rest, a physical therapist can help baseball players prevent the occurrence of pitcher’s elbow by teaching them stretching and strengthening exercises that are individualized for their specific needs. Everybody is different, which means pitcher’s elbow may occur for different reasons for each person. A physical therapist can help a player recover, by designing an individualized treatment plan to regain range of motion, flexibility, and strength.
Justin Brown, PT, DPT, ATC, CSCS
Justin Brown is a doctor of physical therapist and is a certified athletic trainer and strength and conditioning specialist. Justin specializes in treating athletes, and during his practice, Justin focuses on increasing strength, endurance, and power. He teaches athletes how to use proper muscle activation, neuromuscular control and synergism to get the most out of their bodies safely. He is level one certified in fascial movement training and has attended several seminars covering the topic of the overhead throwing phase in athletics. These seminars provide in-depth knowledge of the entire body during the overhead throwing motion phase. Justin practices out of our Clio clinic and is available for free consultations. Call him at (810) 687-8700.
Resources: American Physical Therapy Association, Pitcher’s Elbow,http://moveforwardpt.com, 8/28/2012.