Baseball season is in full swing for the pros. Unfortunately, for many youth baseball players, summer leagues are just one of the year-round seasons they play. A Tommy John injury (injury of the ulnar collateral ligament at the elbow) was unheard of in youth leagues in the mid-90s. By 2010, the adolescent rate was nearly 40 percent. As a baseball enthusiast, I find this trend disturbing. I asked Dr. Bobby Chhabra, Chair of the Orthopedic Department at the University of Virginia, his perception of this epidemic.
“Every year I see more and more adolescent elbow injuries from pitching and throwing. These injuries vary across a spectrum from little leaguer’s elbow, to muscle strains, to UCL injuries (Tommy John), and cartilage injuries. I would agree that the adolescent rate is increasing and the trend shows that this group may soon reach half of all surgeries performed to repair a Tommy John injury.
The reasons for this are likely multi-factorial but include the increasing number of kids who play one sport and pitch year round from a young age, have poor mechanics, have fatigue leading to poor mechanics and injury, and have overuse with minimal rest.