The playbook for protecting your pitcher

Preventing injury in your young baseball player.

Repeatedly throwing a baseball as hard as possible is exhausting, and, if done too often, can be harmful. Following pitching rules, adopting the right workout regimen and allowing time to rest can help prevent a Little League pitcher from getting injured.

1. Follow pitching rules

Keeping pitch counts (the number of pitches thrown by a pitcher in a game) low is very important for the well-being of a Little League pitcher, says Boston Children’s Hospital Sports Medicine injury prevention specialist Corey Dawkins. “Most young pitchers don’t have good mechanics and as a result they can fatigue quickly,” says Dawkins, who has a Level 2 biomechanics certification from the National Pitching Association (NPA). “Fatigue makes players more likely to get injured — it’s the number one risk factor for pitching injuries, including the torn Ulnar Collateral Ligament (UCL).”

How to prevent injury in pitchers.
Little League pitching rules.

A torn UCL is one of the most prevalent injuries for baseball pitchers, and it requires a surgery commonly referred to as Tommy John surgery. Dawkins says there are a lot of misconceptions around Tommy John surgery among parents, athletes and individuals working with pitchers. “The common misunderstanding is that surgery allows you to throw faster than before, and that’s not the case. All the medical studies show that, at best, surgery brings the athlete back to their baseline. It’s not going to make the pitcher stronger or faster than before.”

Additionally, the American Sports Medicine Institute (ASMI) found that adolescent pitchers who undergo elbow or shoulder surgery are 36 times more likely to have routinely pitched with arm fatigue. Dawkins adds, “For Little League pitchers 18 and under, the top three injuries involve the UCL, elbow and shoulder. Some impingement too. It’s not just about the growth plates or Tommy John surgery.” These injuries are often caused by overuse, poor throwing mechanics, or a combination of both.

2. Focus on strength and conditioning training

One of the fundamental preventative measures a pitcher should take to avoid injury is to incorporate a proper strength and conditioning training program into their workout regimen. The ASMI specifically recommends working the shoulders and elbows, as “numerous studies have shown that deficits in upper extremity strength and mobility are strongly correlated to serious arm injuries.”

Dawkins explains that numerous athletes may not take this type of training seriously before they are faced with an injury. As a result, they are then forced to improve their strength and conditioning after surgery. “These athletes may see performance gains once they have the surgery, so they think the improvement is from the procedure itself. However, it’s because they’ve begun to focus on strength and conditioning work. This has been found to be consistent with medical studies.”

3. Make time to rest

Rest is also critical in preventing injury, particularly for pitchers. The ASMI recommends that pitchers take a break from throwing altogether for at least two to three months per year, and to avoid competitive pitching for at least four months out of the year. They also advise pitchers not to pitch consecutive days, as this can increase the likelihood of injury.

Taking time off from baseball by cross-training or participating in other activities can help the athlete recover from their strenuous seasons. Additionally, playing various sports can build up muscles of the body that aren’t typically used in baseball — and this can develop the athlete as a whole.

About the blogger: Kim is currently a student-athlete at Northeastern University and will graduate next year with a major in Communications and a minor in Health Science. Her story originally appeared on the Micheli Center for Sports Injury Prevention’s blog.

Explore injury prevention programs at The Micheli Center for Sports Injury Prevention, or call 617-355-3501 for an appointment with a Boston Children’s Sports Medicine specialist.