Health Team

Young arms struggle to shoulder stress of repeated throwing

Posted June 30, 2016 11:51 a.m. EDT
Updated June 30, 2016 5:59 p.m. EDT

Business is good for many orthopedic surgeons.

Many surgeons, though, would rather not see more young patients coming in for elbow or shoulder surgeries, so they're urging changes in youth baseball to prevent the problem.

Cole Schiff, a 15-year-old lefty, loves baseball—especially when he's on the pitcher's mound. His dad, Brian Schiff, a baseball coach and physical therapist, says it's a part of their lives all year.

"You can pretty much play most of the year and find tournaments through the fall and the spring and the summer," Brian Schiff said.

His son hasn't experienced an arm injury, but 17-year-old high school pitcher Tim Crawford recently had surgery to repair his elbow.

"I did not see it coming at all," Crawford said.

Dr. Matt Boes with Raleigh Orthopedic is alarmed by the number of cases he's seen among mostly pitchers who are 15 to 19 years old.

"And it's reaching a point where it's really epidemic proportions," Boes said. "If you look at a graph, the numbers go straight up."

Boes says repetitive throwing coupled with insufficient rest can put too much stress on shoulder and elbow tissues.

"And with the repetitive stress of throwing, that will stretch out over time and can actually tear," Boes said.

Boes has four recommendations, including significant rest for the throwing arm.

"For two months of the year, we don't let him throw at all," Brian Schiff said.

Second, Boes advises players to delay focusing only on baseball until their senior year in high school.

Third, he discourages professional training techniques for young adolescents.

"The type of stress that the 13 year old can withstand and the type of rigorous training that they can withstand is much less than the mature adult," Boes said.

Last, he promotes preventive stretching and strengthening techniques.

Crawford will do what he can to prevent another injury after he's fully recovered from this one.

"It hurts right now," Crawford said. "It's hard to move, but it's been getting progressively better."

He believes he'll be throwing strikes again by next spring.