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Brian Schiff’s Blog

Injury Prevention, Sports Rehab & Performance Training Expert

Tag: youth baseball injuries

Spring training has begun, and youth baseball players all over the country are starting to practice and prepare for their upcoming seasons. My very own 14 y/o son has started his 8th grade season, while having been working with his travel team on the weekends since mid December.

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As a physical therapist, former player, father, and assistant coach on his 14U team, my first concern is always the health of a player. I see several baseball players in my sports medicine practice ranging in age from 9 year olds to MLB platers. Diagnoses include internal impingement, SLAP tears, little league elbow/shoulder, OCD, UCL sprains, rotator cuff tendinitis, instability, fractures and scapular dyskinesia.

One of the hardest things to do in my profession is get inside the head of a young athlete. Many will refrain from mentioning pain for fear of letting down a parent or coach, or out of concern for losing playing time. Society has become too focused on early specialization and winning from an early age. In addition, “travel baseball” has been somewhat diluted and water down by lots of dads who want their sons to play year-round. I often see kids being abused on terms of too little rest or improper recovery after they pitch and catch.

The biggest, most athletic and hardest throwing kids undergo the most strain as they are asked to shoulder the load at pitcher, catcher and shortstop early on. Many coaches are counting innings in tourneys and not pitches based on tournament guidelines. Too many kids are pitching on consecutive days without proper rest all in an attempt to win meaning less tournaments at a young age. Fortunately, we are making progress in the sports medicine world thanks to the efforts of Dr. James Andrews and others.

High schools are adopting pitch count regulations this year, and MLB along with Dr. Andrews has developed their site, www.pitchsmart.org, to spread education about injury prevention in youth pitchers. Dr. Christopher Ahmad is on the advisory committee for PitchSmart.org, and he is also the lead author on a new paper detailing an injury assessment tool for young baseball players, The Youth Throwing Score.


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This is a follow-up to my previous post with respect to scapular strengthening for optimal shoulder function. Serratus anterior weakness is a common issue with overhead athletes, especially throwers. It may present clinically as scapular winging, however, it often fatigues quickly with repetitive throwing and contributes to scapular dyskinesia and shoulder dysfunction. Since throwing is an asymmetrical activity, I like to include some unstable and progressive strengthening exercises for the dominant arm.

In the video below (as part of my ‘Functionally Fit’ column for PFP Magazine) I will demonstrate how to use a bottom up kettle bell approach to strengthen the serratus anterior muscle.

To see the full article with progressions and regressions check out the link below:

http://fit-pro.com/article-4136-Unilateral-bottom-up-serratus-punch.html

I work with a lot of baseball players in my clinic.  In many cases, I see similar issues and recurring problems in them, especially pitchers.  Some of these issues include:

  • Scapular dyskinesia
  • Limited thoracic spine mobility (extension and/or rotation)
  • Soft tissue tightness (lats, post shoulder, pec major/minor)
  • Poor muscular strength/endurance in the rotator cuff and scapular stabilizers
  • Glenohumeral internal rotation deficit (GIRD)

I integrate routine mobility exercises for my throwers, as well as other overhead athletes (tennis, swimming, volleyball, etc) to better prepare them for training and their sport, as well as prevent poor mechanics and compensatory motion that may lead to aberrant stress on the rotator cuff and labrum.

The following video reveals five of my preferred exercises using a foam roller to improve thoracic spine mobility, decrease latissimus tightness, and stretch the pec major/minor while facilitating lower trapezius activation.

In order you will see:

  1. Lat rolling
  2. T-spine extension in supine
  3. T-spine extension coupled with lat stretch
  4. T-spine rotation
  5. Retraction and downward rotation

I advise performing 5-10 repetitions of each prior to training and sport. These will help improve performance, optimize overhead mechanics and reduce injury risk associated with overhead sports.

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Photo from Bleacher Report

Shoulder surgery is a big concern for any professional pitcher.  I am currently rehabbing two MLB pitchers (one from a labral repair and the other from a Tommy John procedure and obviously not JV pictured above). They are doing great so far in their early rehab, but time will tell if they make it back to their pre-injury pitching levels.

Overuse injuries in youth baseball players is always a huge concern I have.  In fact, I speculate that early wear and tear may contribute to injuries seen down the road in HS, college or the pro ranks.  I know from coaching and observing that more youth coaches need to familiarize themselves with pitch count guidelines and rest/recovery recommendations that Little League baseball now endorses.

As a sports physical therapist who sees 12 year-olds with RC problems and torn UCLs and as a father/coach of a 10 y/o left-handed pitcher, I have a strong passion and vested interest in the welfare of baseball pitchers. While research does not equate increased injury risk with throwing curveballs and sliders to date per se, both of my MLB clients advise against it until athletes turn 14 or 15.

For  information on injury prevention and pitching guidelines for youth, check out this website:

http://www.asmi.org/research.php?page=research&section=positionStatement

Today’s blog post focuses on outcomes following surgery for elite pitchers.  The following information was just published in the Jul/Aug 2013 edition of Sports Health by Harris et al. based on literature review based on these outcome measures:

Primary = pitcher’s rate of return to sport (RTS) at the same level prior to injury

Secondary = rates of RTS regardless of level, performance upon RTS and clinical outcome scores

“Elite” was defined as throwing in at least one game in MLB, minor league (A, AA, or AAA) or all collegiate divisions.   Six level I-IV studies were included with enrollment from 1976 - 2007, and there were 287 elite male pitchers who underwent shoulder surgery with 99% on the dominant throwing shoulder.  Most pitchers (276) were professional with a mean career length of 6.58 years.  Post-operative clinical follow-up within these studies was 3.62 years.

Primary diagnoses treated:

  • RC tear = 120 (43%)
  • Internal impingement = 82 (30%)
  • Labral tear = 74 (27%)

Surgical procedures performed:

  • Labral repair (157) or labral debridement (99)
  • RC repair (29) or debridement (162)
  • Thermal capsulorrhaphy (63)
  • Subacromial decompression (42)

The statistics reveal more debridement of the labrum (61%) and rotator cuff (85%) versus repair.  This is not necessarily surprising given the desire to minimize surgical intervention and loss of motion.

Return to Sport Data

  1. The overall rate of return to sport was low at 68%.
  2. Mean time to return to competitive pitching in a game situation was 12 months (range = 9 -17)
  3. 22% of MLB pitchers never pitched again in MLB
  4. Only 14% returned to competitive pitching in the same season as labral surgery
  5. No one returned to competitive pitching in the same season after rotator cuff surgery
  6. Reynolds et al reported a median of 2 seasons of pitching after debridement of partial thickness cuff tears
  7. Mazoue and Andrews reported a mean of 0.7 seasons pitching (range 3 innings to 3 seasons) after mini-open RC repair

Performance declined for the 3 seasons prior to surgery and then gradually increased for 3 seasons afterward, but generally did not reach pre-injury levels.


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