MLB takes steps to reduce ‘epidemic’ of arm injuries

Having identified what it believes is the main source of arm injuries suffered by young pitchers, Major League Baseball is intent on doing something about it.

The league recently formed the Major League Baseball Research Subcommittee to seek ways to prevent injuries that later result in procedures such as Tommy John surgery, said noted orthopedic surgeon Dr. James Andrews, who is on the subcommittee.

“Major League Baseball team doctors and trainers make up the research subcommittee,” he said. “They want to put emphasis behind prevention in youth baseball, and maybe everybody will listen.”

Andrews said the number of young players, particularly pitchers, who have had to have Tommy John surgery is “an epidemic.”

“It’s an operation that used to be for professional baseball players,” said Andrews, an LSU graduate. “But now, the larger numbers are coming out of high school. We’ve seen a tenfold increase in high school and youth baseball injuries since the year 2000. Major League Baseball knows that if they don’t do something about it, they get ready for the June draft out of high school and college, and the good players have already been hurt and operated on.”

Understanding the risk factors is how you prevent it, he said.

Specialization is a problem, but there’s also what Andrews calls “professionalism,” and there needs to be more accurate information disseminated concerning the training of young athletes.

Professionalism, he said, refers to parents, coaches and trainers putting a young player on a professional schedule while hoping for a professional future.

“They take a young kid through a heavy workload, and his body’s not ready for that,” Andrews said. “They think more is better. You’ve got examples of those who can take that workload. Tiger Woods, for example — the amount of work he did as a young kid. But he’s one in a million that can do it.”

Andrews said poor weight and conditioning training also needs to be addressed.

“A kid came to me to see if he needed surgery,” he said. “He was doing 75-pound triceps extensions — 75 pounds on his throwing elbow. In many cases, they have the baseball team, the basketball team and the volleyball team all on the same program as the football team. And each sport is different. You’ve got to be sports specific.”

Andrews and Dr. Kevin Wilks have prepared an app, which will be released in the coming weeks, that they hope will slow the onslaught of arm injuries. Named “Throw Like A Pro,” the app will feature elements centered on data and input from Andrews and Wilk.

Andrews said he also is working on making high school rules around the country more uniform on such issues as pitch count and limiting the number of teams a player can play on at the same time.

“Every state’s different,” he said. “That’s a big problem. A lot of that is controlled by coaches, by legislature that gets lobbied, and they don’t know what’s best.

“I’m getting all the rules and regulations on high school and junior high school baseball for all 50 states, and I’ll try to make some recommendations and get national publicity about what should be done.”