Young baseball players should pitch no more than 100 innings in any calendar year, according to new research finding that exceeding this threshold increases their risk of injury, a story in the Chicago Tribune said.
The study, published in the American Journal of Sports Medicine, tracked 481 youth pitchers between the ages of 9 and 14 for a decade. During that 10-year span, 5 percent of the young hurlers — or one child in 20 — suffered a serious injury resulting in surgery or retirement.
Overall, the data showed that participants who pitched more than 100 innings in at least one year were 3.5 times more likely to be injured. In addition to limiting throws, the study suggested that pitchers should avoid also playing catcher, as catching appears to increase a pitcher’s risk of injury.
Two of the boys in the study had surgery before their 13th birthday. Only 2.2 percent were still pitching by the 10th year of the study, but the dropout rate could be due to a variety of factors, including lack of interest or talent, the researchers said.
“The younger a child is when an injury happens, the more serious it can be in the long run,” said lead researcher Glenn Fleisig, the Research Director of the American Sports Medicine Institute (ASMI) in Birmingham, Ala.
“Pitchers of all ages have a hard road returning from elbow or shoulder surgery, but now we’re seeing secondary problems for young pitchers who pitch many years after surgery, such as more surgery or arthritis.”
Pitchers suffer elbow and shoulder injuries because of the stress the throwing motion puts on bones, muscles, tendons and ligaments. Throwing curveballs has previously been suggested as a risk factor, but the study couldn’t determine whether starting curveballs before age 13 does, in fact, increase the risk of injury.
In previous generations, children played organized baseball in large programs, such as Little League Baseball and high school athletics. However in the 1990s, the landscape changed. The rise of independent and travel teams, which are often fee-based and competitive, gave children the opportunity to specialize in one sport and/or play year-round, sometimes with overlapping schedules.
In 2004, the USA Baseball Medical & Safety Advisory Committee released guidelines for youth pitcher safety. In 2007, Little League baseball replaced its decades-old inning limits with pitch counts, basing the decision on previous research showing that the more pitches a child throws, the greater chance he or she will suffer from elbow and shoulder pain.
Building on that earlier research by ASMI associating overuse with pain, the current study was able to show the first link between innings pitched in youth and adolescent baseball and serious injuries, said Fleisig.
Although groups like Little League are taking steps to limit the number of pitches to prevent injuries, it’s easy for athletes to exceed 100 innings during a single year if they’re involved in multiple leagues, said Fleisig. He also noted that 100 innings should be the upper limit; some players may fatigue faster than others.
Ultimately it is the responsibility of parents to do what’s best for their kids,” Fleisig said. “One hundred innings is a good umbrella for the maximum a kid should pitch in a calendar year, regardless of how many teams he’s on.”