Arm injuries becoming an epidemic

It’s been a rough year for the Joe Simon fantasy baseball team, and while that may not be a shocking development, part of the reason “NedStark’sBastard” is in eighth place is because of a serious shocking development.

The loss of Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Matt Moore (he was on the verge of a breakout year, I swear) to Tommy John surgery was not only devastating to fantasy owners around the world, but it was yet another example of what is quickly becoming a major epidemic in baseball.

Tommy John surgery, a procedure to replace an injured elbow ligament, is becoming an inevitability for almost every starting pitcher nowadays. Fans and players alike cringe at the mere words “elbow soreness,” which always seems to be a precursor by Tommy John surgery. Just in April and May, 28 pitchers in Major League Baseball underwent the operation, according to a report by Danny Knobler of Bleacher Report. Some of those players were budding stars – Oakland’s A.J. Griffin and Miami’s Jose Fernandez, for example – and while the surgery usually occurs in college or pro athletes, the damage is done during the teenage years.

That puts a lot of responsibility on the shoulders of high school coaches, and some of them aren’t handling it well. One story that garnered a lot of national attention recently was when Rochester (Wash.) High School pitcher Dylan Fosnacht threw 194 pitches in a 1-0 win. His coach, Jerry Striegel, allowed him to throw 14 innings in the 17-inning game. He wasn’t fired (he’s also the school’s athletic director), but after first saying he didn’t see the reason for such outrage, he later admitted it was poor judgment.

Numerous reports have surfaced about the rash Tommy John surgeries during the last few weeks, partly because Fosnacht’s marathon outing became so popular. The conclusion doctors and journalists who investigated the problem have come to is that pitching year ’round is a primary reason the injuries are occurring.

Kids are pitching for their high school teams in the spring, then a summer-league team and then again in fall ball. As the innings mount, so does the stress on the arm. World-renouned surgeon Dr. James Andrews recently co-founded a position paper in the American Sports Medicine Institute, and the findings supported the fact that pitching year ’round plays a major role in elbow and shoulder injuries. A few other key points from the report to remember are:

Refrain from overhead throwing of any kind for at least 2-3 months per year.

Do not pitch when your arm is fatigued. Follow restrictions for pitch counts and days rest.

Learn and use good throwing mechanics (this goes for kids of all ages).

Pitchers shouldn’t also be catchers. The constant throwing increases the potential for an injury.

Do not pitch more than 100 innings in a calendar year.

As obvious as some of this may seem, it’s not easy as it may seem for a kid to notice these signs.

That’s why it’s so important for coaches and parents to understand the importance of following smart, healthy protocol.

It shouldn’t matter if the kid is a big-time college prospect or just an average pitcher, when he’s reached the threshold, he needs to come out (I say he because softball pitchers aren’t at risk because their pitching motion is a natural arm movement that doesn’t lead to as many injuries).

The bottom line is to use common sense. Listen to your body. If your arm is tired or sore, but it’s a close game or a key moment, trust your teammates and let a relief pitcher finish things off. Coaches and parents need to stop pushing kids to do more than they’re capable of accomplishing. The health risks aren’t worth it.

Furthermore, it might cost my fantasy team in a decade (relax, I’m kidding).