Monitoring Youth Pitch Counts Essential for Protecting Baseball Elbows and ShouldersMar 16
By Will Holley, DPT – Rogersville, Alabama Center
In today’s world of youth sports, the concept of an “off-season” has become the exception. The vast majority of youth sports now offer multiple avenues to participate year-round.
In no other sport is this more prevalent than baseball. Young baseball players have little difficulty finding a team with which to play, including town, school and travel/tournament teams.
Improving one’s skills aside, playing the same sport without an off-season raises concerns about injury risk.
Baseball involves constant, repetitive throwing no matter the position, but pitchers spend significantly more time honing their throwing skills. Repetitive stress on an adolescent’s ligaments, tendons and bones has the potential to cause serious injury.
This reality has led to extensive research around pitch counts for baseball players of all ages.
The fastball and change-up are considered the safest pitches for youth pitchers while “off-speed” pitches such as the curveball, slider and sinker cause increased stress on a pitcher’s shoulder and elbow.
Studies have shown that pitches per game, pitches per season, and pitches per year all have a direct influence on elbow and shoulder injury risk.
Studies suggest that pitchers between 9-14 years of age:
- Have a significantly increased risk of shoulder pain when throwing more than 75 pitches per game;
- Are twice as likely to experience elbow pain when throwing more than 600 pitches in a season;
- Have an increased risk for shoulder pain when throwing more than 800 pitches in a season.
- Have nearly twice the incidence of elbow and shoulder pain when frequently throwing pitches such as the sinker and slider.
Pitch count and pitches per season also have been shown to be significant risk factors in slightly older baseball players.
Pitchers ages 14-20 are at significantly greater risk of elbow pain when throwing more than 85 pitches and shoulder pain when throwing more than 94 pitches in a game. The same age group has an increased incidence of elbow and shoulder pain when throwing more than 2,500 pitches in a year.
It is clear that monitoring pitch counts is of utmost importance when considering injury prevention for the elbow and shoulder in young baseball players. It is equally important to emphasize the exclusive use of the fastball and change-up in pitchers younger than 14.
Below you can find Major League Baseball’s pitch count guidelines, including recommended rest for all age groups. Although these pitch count guidelines deviate slightly from the studies reviewed for this article, they offer a good reference point for protecting youth pitchers.
1 Nicole R. Miela, Julia C. Jamrog, and Mitchell T. Irwin. The Influence of Pitch Count and Type on Elbow and Shoulder Injuries in Adolescent Baseball Pitchers: A Systematic Review. Svsu.edu. 2001.
2 Stephen Lyman, Glenn Fleisig, James Andrews, David Osinski. Effect of Pitch Type, Pitch Count, and Pitching Mechanics on Risk of Elbow and Shoulder Pain in Youth Baseball Pitchers. The American Journal of Sports Medicine. Vol. 30 (No. 4) 2002.
3 “Guidelines for Youth and Adolescent Pitchers.” MLB.com/pitchsmart/pitching-guidelines. MLB Advanced Media. Web. March 2017.