Baseball season is in full swing, and like every year, the players’ health is the most important factor in determining their performance individually and as a team. Whether it’s stretching before and after practice or taking time off to rest, players take all the necessary precautions to stay healthy during the season. Promoting long-term health for baseball players starts at a young age, but sometimes injuries are inevitable — especially for pitchers.
The workload pitchers undergo puts continuous pain and strain on their bodies. To keep you or your child healthy throughout the season, ATI Physical Therapy’s research scientist and baseball injury expert, Ellen Shanley, PhD, PT, OCS, provides her expert insights into the prevalence of arm injuries for pitchers, breaks down ways to avoid these injuries, important factors for players and ways ATI can help.
The prevalence of arm injuries
In professional baseball, 40 percent of the injuries that require players to miss time occur in pitchers. Of all upper-extremity injuries, pitchers sustain 67 percent of them. One quarter of all the high school pitchers that we follow each year sustain a shoulder or elbow injury that requires treatment. The importance of injuries is the loss of playing and training time, expense of treatment and replacement costs, but more importantly, a player also has increased risk for future injuries.
Reducing the risk of injuries is important for players of all positions and ages. While many of the strategies used are the same for all players, some are more different in younger athletes.
The most important factor for all players is rest
Most professional players take four consecutive months off competition to recover and train for the season. Recommendations for youth and adolescent athletes include three months off per year and playing multiple different sports throughout the year to allow for proper motor development and for rest and recovery.In addition, players are advised to play on only one baseball team per season and no more than three seasons of baseball per year. At least one day of rest from sports per week is optimal.
Other critical factor for both professional and amateur players
Other critical factors include participating in off season and preseason conditioning programs with special focus on arm care. Programs for younger athletes should also focus on building good overall athletic abilities and maintaining flexibility as they are growing. To maintain good health during the season, consider these tips to avoid injuries:
- Take time for extra rest if you have increased soreness or fatigue especially early or late in the season. If this persists, seek care.
- Seek care if you have pain during or after practice or competition.
- Seek care if you experience a sustained, unexplained or prolonged decrease in performance.
Youth and adolescent athletes
For youth and adolescent athletes, avoid specializing in one sport and one position until at least mid-adolescence. Proper nutrition, sleep and balancing the demands of school and sports are important in an athlete’s long-term physical development.
Ways ATI can help
ATI, through the sports medicine program and physical therapy clinics, provides community screenings for athletic teams in the beginning of the baseball season and for any athlete when they have questions about their health.
With a published arm care program, our team implements expert-backed treatment methods in high school, collegiate and professional athletes. While utilizing the program, baseball pitchers have shown a 50 percent reduction in injuries over the last three years.
To hear more on the topic of arm injuries, Ellen Shanley, PhD, PT, OCS, breaks down injury-based strategies and how parents can promote long-term arm health.
What is the difference in MLB Draft strategies between teams that draft high school pitchers versus college pitchers?
There are many factors that go into each teams’ draft considerations. Teams have overall draft philosophies that reflect the players and strengths of the organization, their needs and draft/development experience. Assuming talent and availability are essentially equal, then some teams prefer to work with younger players because they have less wear on their arms and are more malleable. Other organizations prefer athletes who have faced a higher level of competition and therefore know adversity.
What do teams look at in injury history? Is it a good thing to have already had Tommy John surgery (TJS) or a bad thing by that age?
Injury is always an important consideration. Teams generally try to avoid players with major injuries but TJS injuries are a bit less of a concern than some other problems. The return rate and level of play outcomes for this injury are better than most surgical type injuries for both pitchers and position players. However, early TJS injuries can reflect wear and technical issues that can be a cause for concern.
What should high school kids and parents do to promote long-term arm health?
Promoting long-term health really is about balance. Diversity in sport participation until 15 years old can develop proper athletic movement patterns. Participating in preseason physicals, screening and training can assure athletic health prior to competition. Balanced scheduling will allow adequate rest between academic, athletic and other activities. Finally, maintain a good recovery plan and seek help if you have a decrease in performance or develop some arm pain.
If you have sustained an injury and are unsure of the steps needed to get back to life before the injury, stop by your nearest ATI Physical Therapy clinic for a complimentary screening and get back to doing you. Our team will assess your injury, provide next step suggestions in care and get you on your way!