“Dad…..my elbow hurts”
The MLB season has begun. There is excitement in the air and every team has a chance at this point in the season to make the playoffs (even Cubs fans…). Spring training is a great chance to get ready for the season but the excitement of the season is what everyone waits for in April.
But something is different this spring and it comes in the form of injuries, elbows primarily but shoulders as well. At least 5 front of the rotation pitchers ( 2 of these pitchers are having the surgery for the 2nd time in their lives), 1 All Star pitcher mid-way through last season and, ironically today, the closer for the Mets, have had an elbow injury (News Flash: Since I wrote this piece beginning 12 hours ago ANOTHER pitcher for the Dbacks is out with an elbow injury. Talk about picking the right topic to write about….) and they are out for the season following what was formerly known as an ulna ligament of the elbow replacement……it is now simply called Tommy John.
Tommy John surgery was first done in 1974 by Dr. Frank Jobe. Dr. Jobe was the LA Dodgers team physician who operated on then Dodger pitcher, Tommy John. John was diagnosed with a torn ulna collateral ligament that attaches the ulna bone in the lower arm to the humeral bone in the upper arm. The procedure got John back on the mound where he went on to win an additional 164 games after the surgery and retiring at age 46 in 1989.
Unfortunately, Tommy John (the simple term for the UCL surgery) is an almost expected occurrence at the highest levels of baseball. Statistics have showed that as many as 1/3 of all MLB pitchers have undergone this procedure. In fact, it is a hideous ‘badge of honor’ for many of them, but just the same it is a part of the game. Many have deemed it as just another surgery that has pitchers throwing as hard if not harder than before.
But let’s take a closer look at why these pitchers get to this point in their career. Then let’s try to understand why there are more reports of pitchers blowing out their UCL and potentially having career ending surgery. In this day and age of travel baseball, showcases, youth world series and tournaments every weekend, is it any wonder that there are considerably more injuries today than in past years? Growth plate fractures/separations…tendonitis in the elbow and/or shoulder areas….dead arms….bicep soreness. There are many happy health care providers who are seeing quadruple the amount of sport related injuries than a decade ago.
In the past, articles were written about how in the past 90 miles per hour was the benchmark for pitchers to attain in order to be noticed by colleges and professional scouts. Today, 95 mph is the new benchmark. Players are bigger today than 25 years ago. However, there is noticeably less training (due to all the games being played) and this allows for the rate of injuries to go up. Games and throwing for the radar gun become primary to any sort of training and/or development that players need in order to excel at games. Bodies break down due to the constraints they attain because of lack of training. There is less development but more showcases and games over multiple weekends in a month. Sadly, a perfect recipe for injury.
One area of interest in arm problems is the proliferation of 9-12 year old pitchers throwing ‘Cut Fastballs’, ‘Safety Curves’ and a ‘C-Change’. In almost all instances that throwers have shown me this particular pitch, it is really nothing more than a slider disguised under the name of another pitch. The slider is the one pitch that is thrown more incorrectly than any other pitch in the game……and typically the one that places more torque in the throwing elbow than other pitches. This is due in part to the supination of the throwing hand / arm that pulls on the flexor tendon in the forearm. Plus this allows the lower arm to ‘fly out’ from the upper arm in a manner that gets the ball to spin down and away from the same side of the plate that the pitcher/batter occupy during a game. This pitch alone, though effective in getting players to swing, has done more damage to pitchers over the past number of years.
So what does this all mean?
I believe that everything listed above…and then some….is going to be the beginning of a number of more injuries at the highest levels and trickle down to our youth players. We are seeing those injuries occur at a higher frequency today as those young pitching stars in MLB were the stud players on the travel and select ball circuit up to 10 years ago. And it is not a coincidence that about that time is when the travel ball and showcase circuit scene really started to take off and become a 12 month out of the year activity. It is believed by orthopedic doctors that this is the first wave of injuries to come……and coupled with the applauded riddance and stricter enforcement of performance enhancing drugs (PEDs), the injury rate is going to skyrocket. And I stress that it WILL skyrocket.
What can we do about it? How do we help our pitchers when they do tell us that their arm is hurting?
First, limit the number of showcase events to an absolute minimum. In my opinion they are a waste of time and resources. They have become big money events disguised as ways for colleges to see players. This might be true in the top 1% of players. But not for the majority of ball players.
Second, the amount of innings / pitches / playing catcher after pitching HAS to be limited. There is not a set number in any of these cases. It depends on the individual. However, no HS, college or professional scout cares if you win the holiday tournament as a 8-14 year old aged pitcher. Only your coach cares, as most of them do, want to win games and take a trophy home. It is an absolute abomination to hear stories after stories regarding players pitching multiple innings over a weekend AND catching the remaining innings because they are the best player at both of those positions. Pick one and that’s it! The damage that could be done is in many cases irreparable.
Next, get on a training development program to condition your body and arm to the rigors that are demanded in playing the game. That is exactly what we do at ThrowZone. An assessment can be done to make sure you are dealing with constraints and mobility issues that might impede your progress on the field. High speed video is regularly used to correct mechanical issues that occur in young impressionable bodies. And we can teach and allow the player to understand the best way to throw a fastball, breaking ball and changeup……that will in fact help the health of your arm / elbow/ shoulder complex by 2 simple steps and changes to their current throwing pattern.
We are moving into an age of injury. It is a fact and there is evidence to support this in medical journals and reports. We are here to help you in putting the odds more favorably on your side. Our weekly training class helps with managing and preventing these injuries. We are hosting our annual summer training program that will begin in June and last through mid July. Players from all over the country have come to train with us and get them on the way to better arm health and the higher velocity that their coaches demand from them.
What do you say to your child when they tell you, “Dad, my arm hurts”?
Our answer would be “Let’s call ThrowZone and have them help us out”
Until next time…..