Shouldering the Pain: Pitch Counts for Young Athletes

October 26, 2016

Dr. Christine Blonski
Rochester Regional Health Sports Medicine

It’s October. The baseball season is wrapping up. And, what a year it has been. Little leaguers from nearby Maine-Endwell, New York won the Little League World Series in August, becoming the first team from the state to win the title since 1964. Now, they and millions of other little leaguers watch their favorite Major League Baseball players try and capture a World Series of their own.

Off the field, a hot sports medicine topic continues to be discussed: pitch counts. We have seen the stories of the promising young Major Leaguers who have undergone Tommy John Surgery early in their career. Many younger players are suffering injuries that historically have been seen in old athletes. These types of injuries can cut a very promising career short. For many of these kids, overuse and specifically unregulated pitch counts are a leading cause for these injuries.

The National Federation of State High School Associations, the association which governs high school sports nation-wide, has told state associations to adopt a rule regulating the number of pitches a high school pitcher can throw in a game. Changes are expected to be in place by 2017.

Advice for coaches/parents: The institution of regulated pitch counts are in place to help reverse the trend of increasing numbers of shoulder and elbow injuries in young kids due to overuse. If a young athlete throws too much (in a single game or without enough rest between consecutive starts) too hard, with improper mechanics, or throws certain pitches too early, a serious injury can occur. Most injuries are preventable.

To lower our young athletes risk for an overuse injury coaches and parents should:

1. Strive to ensure proper warm ups should be completed before each outing. 

2. Avoid pitching on multiple teams with overlapping seasons and year round (this may be a way around the pitch count rule, but at the harm of our young athlete's arm for the long term)

3. Don't allow athlete to pitch with persistent pain

4. The younger the pitcher, the more important it is to focus on learning control, accuracy and good mechanics rather than a multitude of different types of pitches. Fastball first. A well placed accurate fastball will get you more outs than an inconsistent breaking ball.

This is a constantly evolving field and recommendations are changing.  Stay up to date and compliant with latest published guidelines if you are managing a team. 

If your child/athlete is reporting persistent pain for days or has lost range of motion, it may be a sign that a more serious injury has occurred and they should be referred for evaluation by a qualified medical professional from our Sports Medicine team.
Categories: Sports Medicine