As I hurled the ball I heard two pops, and red-hot pain shot through my arm like a bullet. My legs buckled under me and I fell to the ground. My vision blurred, making it look like there were two of my friend George running towards me. My right arm, my throwing arm, buckled under me and seared with pain as I tried to get up. I knew right away this wasn’t just sore muscles — this was an injury.
I later found out I had partially torn the ulnar-collateral ligament in my elbow. A common overuse injury, some major leaguers have to have Tommy John surgery to fully heal. But luckily mine was just a partial tear, so the treatment was rest for six months and physical therapy.
The reason I’m writing my first blog on this experience is because I want other kids my age to prevent it from happening to them. As we head into baseball season, I want everyone to know that your coach is not lying when he or she says that you’re going to play so much that you’re going to injure yourself. It happened to me, but it doesn’t have to happen to you.
The chance of a young pitcher getting an inside elbow injury is slim, about five percent. But it is happening more and more as kids specialize earlier, explained Dr. Gian Corrado, Head Team Physician for Northeastern University (and my doctor) when I interviewed him recently.
“As kids play baseball year-round at a younger age, without diversifying sports from season to season, this kind of injury is getting more common,” says Dr. Corrado.
Most injuries come from kids playing hours and hours without a break, and playing too often, especially throwing as hard as they can too many times. “The variables of overuse injuries is the number of throws, the amount of rest and how effective the thrower is at creating high velocity speed across the shoulder and elbow,” says Dr. Corrado. “The biggest thing these days, with all the advances with throwing mechanics, young kids are able to throw at high speeds that they didn’t used to be able to throw at.”
Shoulders and elbows are the most likely to get hurt from overuse. “The act of pitching is the act of trying to throw, from a shoulder standpoint, your arm off. And from an elbow standpoint, trying to throw your forearm off you, Dr. Corrado says. “So both of those areas are highly susceptible to injuries because they are put under an incredible amount of stress.”
It was one long throw that did it for me. I thought I had Little League elbow, a common but not serious baseball injury, or just soreness. Because of that, I kept playing. At the end of the season I had made the team representing my neighborhood in a city-wide, inter-league tournament in Boston called the Mayor’s Cup, and I wanted to finish the tournament. I literally couldn’t throw, so I played first base the whole time and only threw underhand. When I kept playing, it made the injury worse. “Sore muscles and soreness probably won’t turn into injury,” Dr. Corrado says, “unless it’s not soreness, but injury.” My injury required six months of rest, and weeks and weeks of physical therapy to get my arm back.
So how can you prevent this kind of injury? Dr. Corrado says staying strong is important to prevention, especially if you have good mechanics. “A kid who is not too strong, not too effective in transferring his weight from his feet across his body and across his shoulder is probably not going to hurt himself,” he said. “Without the creation of strong forces and whip-like changes to the body, the risk of injury is low. But kids who can effectively turn their body into a whip are more likely to get hurt.” Staying in condition is important year round, and especially during baseball season. That means doing some strength exercises: push-ups, sit-ups, pull-ups and other exercise like running, swimming and biking.
Throughout the baseball season you should also do proper warm-up and stretches that stretch and strengthen the rotator cuff (shoulder muscles) and muscles in your forearm. Follow the pitch limits your coach tells you. 10-12 year olds should be throwing about 75 to 100 pitches per week, and should not be throwing as hard as they can without rest in between. You should also recognize the line between soreness and pain. If you are sore after a game, rest until the soreness has gone down.
There are two kinds of injuries in baseball. One is an overuse injury, like I had, and the other one is a traumatic injury. An overuse injury is the body not being able to adapt to physical stress (or simply, playing too much). A traumatic injury has nothing to do with overuse, but is when you hurt yourself sliding into a base, or running into someone, for example. Another kind of traumatic injury is when the batter gets hit by a pitched ball. This is one of the most common traumatic injuries in baseball. To prevent traumatic injuries, make sure that you use the proper equipment, and that it’s the right size. So, to prevent injury during the baseball season, be careful, and set a limit on how many pitches you throw.