The advent of baseball season brings reminders of spring and mowed grass, along with men, women and youngsters taking to the field to participate in one of America’s greatest pastimes.
And while the sport has brought joy to scores of young players, many of whom have gone from Little League to the professional ranks, staying healthy is critical not only to playing one’s best but also to a life of good health outside of baseball.
Local Little League chapters are taking notice of the potential for arm and elbow injuries to their players and the governing body of all local, district and regional chapters of Little League International has instituted policies designed to reduce damage to the arms of its young players.
“Little League International now has guidelines that limit the number of pitches that a player can pitch in a game,” said Robin Martin, the president of the Del Rey Little League. “They also require that kids rest in between games so that they don’t pitch in consecutive games, and teams are allowed to meet only four times a week.”
Dr. Orr Limpisvasti, a sports medicine specialist and orthopedic surgeon at the Kerlan-Jobe Orthopaedic Clinic in Westchester, which specializes in sports medicine and orthopedic diagnosis and treatment, says data exist that show that injuries to pitchers and especially catchers can occur in Little Leaguers due to overuse of their throwing arms.
“There is a lot of medical research that indicates that we are seeing more and pretty significant elbow and shoulder pain among young throwers,” the doctor told The Argonaut. “Most of them are in the area of the growth plates, which could have consequences as they get older if the injuries are not allowed to heal properly.”
Limpisvasti agrees that limiting pitch counts can be a helpful deterrent to arm trouble that young hurlers might face if they overuse their arms, and he advocates that Little League players take time in the off-season to engage in other activities.
“Because pitchers and catchers especially can overuse their arms during the season, young players should take three to four months off from continuous play,” Limpisvasti recommended.
Sports medicine specialists are seeing injuries to the arm at earlier ages and are encouraging coaches and trainers to be mindful that youngsters’ arms are still in their developmental stage as Little Leaguers.
Little League International put a policy in place recently that governs how many pitches its players may throw in an inning. A 12-to-13-year old, for example, has an 85-pitch count ceiling.
Martin believes that the new specifications serve a variety of purposes in addition to helping to maintain a player’s health.
“It protects kids’ arms from overuse and it encourages teams to develop other pitchers,” she said.
The Westchester Little League was ahead of the national chapter regarding the implementation of the number of pitches a player can throw in an inning.
“Nationally, the pitch count was instituted last year,” said Keith Kutler, the safety coordinator of the Westchester chapter. “We started [limiting pitches] four years ago, and we were the first area Little League to do so.”
The Westchester league also has a mandatory policy that a pitcher must rest for three days after pitching a game.
“We used to rely on innings pitched per week, but then we realized that was not an accurate measure for all of our kids,” Kutler said.
Both the Del Rey and Westchester chapters stressed that the health and safety of the youngsters is the top priority for all its players.
“Our number one concern is our players’ safety,” said Kutler.
“Safety is our priority,” Martin added.
The new guidelines are helpful for league officials, coaches and players, says Limpisvasti, because if a player is injured at an early age, the damage could affect the athlete’s career in later years.
“Some injuries to the arm can be a concern all the way through high school and perhaps college,” says Limpisvasti, who has published a paper entitled “Effect of Pitching Biomechanics on the Upper Extremity in Youth Baseball Pitchers.”
The study was on Little League Pitching mechanics and was funded by Major League Baseball.
Specialists like Limpisvasti and his Kerlan-Jobe colleagues are seeing younger players hurting their arms at an earlier age than in the past.
“We have seen players hurt as early as eight and nine, but typically we see them more around 12 and 13 years of age,” the doctor noted.
Martin gave credit to Little League International for instituting the pitch limit plan and putting the long-term health of the youngsters first.
“They have done a really good job of keeping the guidelines under control,” said the Del Rey league president. “All of our coaches are following the guidelines.”
Kutler, who has been with the Westchester league for five years, says that during his tenure he has not seen many arm or elbow injuries to their players.
“We’ve been pretty fortunate in that respect,” he said.
Limpisvasti also recommends that Little Leaguers play multiple sports throughout the year in order to place less stress on their elbows and arms.