Young pitchers need rest and variation

If you watched or read the news this week, you probably heard about Bryce Harper, the first overall pick in the Major League Baseball draft. Harper is by all accounts a “phenom.” Sports Illustrated had him on its cover last year – when he was only 16 years old. He hits 600-feet home runs and can throw a baseball 97 miles per hour.

Another thing you might have heard about Harper is that he began playing competitive baseball when he was 3. By the time he was in his teens, he was playing 170 games a year while playing in both travel and school leagues. MLB players only play 162 games during their regular season.

While these statistics are impressive, another news story that came out this week suggests that Harper’s path is not advisable for all young baseball players, particularly for young pitchers. A study presented at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons revealed that throwing-arm injuries are rising in youth baseball programs. The proposed reason is that young players are throwing too much with too little rest for their arms.

Children’s own Dr. Philip Wilson, pediatric orthopedic surgeon in the Sports Medicine Center, has addressed the issue of overuse or repetitive-use injuries.

“We’re not seeing the selective stress distributed about their body like we used to see in childhood athletes, where they played baseball for fun one month and the next month was basketball and next season was football,” Dr. Wilson said. “Stress would be placed in different areas of the child’s body, allowing time for recovery.

“There is widespread overtraining of children today.”

If a young pitcher throws out his arm, he could be out for the season and possibly suffer permanent damage. So, if the goal for young baseballers is to become the best player possible, playing year-round baseball might prove counterproductive.

For parents interested in researching the issue further, the USA Baseball Medical and Safety Advisory Committee has guidelines for young pitchers.

According to Dr. Wilson, parents primarily need to be sensitive to their child’s developing body.

“The bottom line is that if a child begins complaining of soreness or sensitivity, especially in areas of the body they frequently use in their sport, they need to rest,” he said. “Some time away from that motion or sport will benefit them much more than continued, daily practice and play of the same sport.”

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