“It’s not surprising that parents and coaches tend to worry most about single-event injuries such as two players colliding – which is where most prevention efforts are focused – but the majority of sports-related injuries are actually caused by overuse,” said Busfield, a board certified orthopedic surgeon and fellowship-trained sports medicine specialist affiliated with Sutter Delta Medical Center.
The statistic is true of most youth sports, but baseball and softball pitchers are especially prone to overuse injuries.
“Even when a young pitcher throws a ball,” said Busfield, “there is a powerful whipping force that travels down the arm.” When pitches are thrown one after another throughout a game or practice, the muscles eventually grow fatigued and body mechanics change.
According to Busfield, the change in body mechanics can easily lead to an injury.
To address the problem, most youth leagues limit the number of pitches a player can throw in a day, but the rules generally apply only to in-game pitches. Every pitch matters, even those thrown during warm-ups and practices, but it isn’t feasible for coaches and league officials to track every single pitch a player throws.
“The best person to track an individual’s pitch count is the player themselves,” said Busfield, “so it’s really important that they understand how excessive use can lead to injury, and the importance of resting between pitching days.”
This year’s Little League pitch counts for ages 7 and 8 are no more than 50 per game, followed by one day of rest. The number increases for each age group, maxing out at 105 pitches for 17- and 18-year-olds. To emphasize the importance of following these guidelines, parents should make sure they and their children are clear on the appropriate pitch count for the child’s age, and that the actual number of pitches thrown each day is tracked.
Most overuse injuries are not serious and can be properly treated with just a few days of rest, but injuries left untreated can lead to permanent damage.
“If your child complains of pain, or if you notice that they are in pain even though they deny it, insist that they take three or more days off of pitching. If the pain doesn’t go away on its own after a couple of days, the child should be seen by a doctor to make sure there isn’t a more serious injury.”
For parents, enforcing the rules is never any fun, but teaching our children to take care of their bodies is one of the most valuable lessons we can pass on.
Dagan Henderson is a medical writer affiliated with Sutter Delta Medical Center.