Common Arm Injuries in the Youth Throwing Athlete

riverside_logoOveruse injuries account for 50% of all youth sports injuries, but half of those may be preventable.
For many, your player has been playing competitive baseball from February through October. They may have gone through a spring season, summer season and now the fall season. If this is the case, it may be a good idea to keep an eye out for signs of fatigue that will lead to arm injuries.

At our summer camps this year, we had the luxury of having Amy Schendel as a guest speaker. She was then with Riverside Sports Medicine here in the Hampton Roads area of Virginia as an Athletic Trainer and Community Outreach Liaison.

Below is a synopsis of what she communicated to the parents of our campers. At the end of this article there is a bonus printable Thrower’s Handout that every coach and parent of a baseball player should have:

10 Arm Injury Prevention Tips

  1. Watch for signs of fatigue – whether the child tells you he feels tired or through observation, rest the player when there is fatigue. As a coach, look for poor mechanical errors like less shoulder rotation, standing with knees extended and a more upright torso. For a pitcher, a fastball will elevate 4-6 inches consistently if he is tired. Or just be more inconsistent and slowed down. A tired pitcher will throw from a different slot, stand more upright in delivering a pitch and use less lower body.

  3. Make sure they take a break from throwing… what is “extended” = USA baseball and MLB recommend 4 months during the year of no overhead throwing. This typically means 2-3 months being continuous, and most favorably after baseball season is over. During this time, they can still play and be active and “condition” but you’re physically just resting their arm from this movement. It is also recommended that they do not engage in any other overhead throwing sport at a time and avoid playing any one sport year round. For example, avoid playing rec-league football as a quarterback while in baseball season.

  5. Follow guidelines on pitch count limits, types of pitches, and rest time. USA baseball recommends limits, but they are not mandated. There are no pitch-count limits in high school baseball even though injury prevention experts such as Dr. Andrews believes there should be. Use caution on independent travel and all-star teams competing in independent tournaments which may have no rules on limits and rest. Travel ball can be big cause for fatigue due to lack of coach communication. You can’t rely on the coach knowing he just pitched 5 inning last night, so it may be up to you as the parent to know your child’s pitch count. Also, consider the delay in throwing curveballs, sliders, and other advanced pitches.

  7. For that reason, take caution in allowing them to pitch for more than one team at a time. Again, it may be up to be aware of their pitch counts and rest days.

  9. Poor mechanics at an early age can lead to increased risk of injury. Proper mechanics may take a while as the moves required to throw effectively and safely are considered developmental milestones. Making sure they are rotating their body, keeping their arm from drifting out to the side of their body and leading with their stride leg straight out toward home plate are all mechanical issues that if not addressed early on can lead to increased risk of injury. Riverside offers a service where a sports physical therapist can video tape and analyze a throwing motion using computer software. Once the poor mechanics have been identified, an athlete can work with a coach and the physical therapist to optimize their mechanics.

  11. Being conditioned not only means being athletic and “in shape” but conditioning the arm and the shoulder. Strengthening exercises for the rotator cuff muscles that stabilize the shoulder are different than lifting weights for strength training. Training the rotator cuff muscles will naturally make the entire arm stronger. Since the arm is powered by the legs and the core, it is very important to condition those muscle groups as well.

  13. Research shows that cold muscles are more prone to injuries, especially during a growth spurt. Have them warm up with active movements like jumping jacks, jogging in place while swinging their arms, arm circles, cross-body arm swings, etc. Then follow it with static stretches of the neck, shoulders, upper arms, forearms, torso, and legs. Once it’s time to begin throwing, start with soft toss and gradually warm up to full distance throwing at full velocity.
    Corey Williams Baseball Pitcher

  15. Any persistent pain that shows no sign of improvement should be evaluated. Teach them to report their pain to the athletic trainer, the coach, and to you. Teach them that it should not be looked at as a sign of weakness to report their pain and that NO ONE wants them to sit out and miss games, but we as adults are there to keep them safe. Athletic trainers can help you decide the nature of your child’s pain and help you navigate care. Do not wait to get your child’s injury checked out until after the season.

  17. Some experts have promoted the use of radar guns to measure pitcher fatigue, but it will be very hard for the player to resist the temptation to overthrow. Obsession with quantitative performance should be discouraged at this age (ERA, on-base percentage, batting average, etc.)

  19. The combined total number of throws dramatically increases by playing a pitcher at catcher as well, thus increasing the risk of injury. If your pitcher throws 41 or more pitches from the mound, he should not get behind the plate for the rest of the game. It can be argued that on his rest day he should avoid high velocity throwing from the catcher position as well.

Thrower’s Handout

Tap to download printable .PDF version.
Thrower's Handout

Do you have a player that had an arm injury? Did you see any of these warning signs? Comment below…

Stay on plane…

About CoachK

Owner and head instructor at Colonial Baseball Instruction. CBI serves Southern VA with baseball camps and private lessons. CBI also developed My Coach: Baseball App and sells a variety of baseball training aids.