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Is An Epidemic Among Us Part 3 of 3

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Is An Epidemic Upon Us? Too Many Arm Injuries
By Geoff Zahn, Former Major League Pitcher and
Head Baseball Coach, University of Michigan
May 12, 2008

Summary and Recommendations

There have always been pitchers that come up with bad arms.  Part of it is genetic.  Some pitchers cartilage breaks down, others have ligament problems, still others develop bone spurs and some have almost no problems.  Young pitchers have always thrown breaking balls, and they have thrown without proper conditioning or warm-up.  However the increase in arm injuries, especially to the ulnar collateral ligament in the last few years needs to be addressed.  This short review has pointed out some of the changes in the game over the last 10 to 15 years.  Some of the changes, like pitch counts, are good, and some may need research to determine their value to the safety of pitchers’ arms.

Money is needed for research.  We, in baseball, need to explore avenues of income for grants.  Corporate sponsors of youth leagues from Little League to Connie Mack should be made aware of the increasing occurrence of arm injuries and be encouraged to give money for research.  It is also in MLB’s interest to sponsor research as it eventually helps promote the game.

One of the keys is education.  There are many fine doctors doing research on the pitching motion and on injuries. The information gained has to be translated and put into the coaches’ and parents’ hands in a timely matter.  There has got to be more cooperation between coaches/teachers and doctors/researchers.

•    Look to standardize throughout all youth leagues, pitch counts per game, per consecutive 7 day period, and per year for different age groups.  Also to standardize the amount of rest given after so many pitches.
•    Research whether using a smaller and lighter ball for 8-10 yr olds would make a difference in stress on pitchers’ arms and whether it would increase velocity to the point of being dangerous.
•    Deemphasize the importance of velocity in young pitchers and emphasize learning how to pitch.  
•    Give the game back to our youth and let pitchers and catchers call their own game until they at least get to college.
•    Continue research on efficient mechanics.
•    Do research to answer the questions listed above concerning weight training and conditioning.
•    Encourage kids to spend more time outdoors playing pick up games with their peers away from constant adult supervision.

These recommendations are by no means exhaustive but are meant to spur interest and involvement to the point of not just talking about protecting young arms but to actually cause something to be done about it.  The problem of arm injuries does not carry a one cause solution but will require work, cooperation and common sense by all involved for the good of the game.

1.    “A Biomechanical Comparison of Youth Baseball Pitches: Is the Curveball Potentially Harmful?”  by Shouchen Dun, Jeremy Loftice, Glen S. Fleisig, David Kingsley and James R. Andrews. American Journal of Sports Medicine 2008; 36:686 published online Nov 30, 2007

2.  “High School Baseball Pitch Counts” by Gil Patterson,

3.  “Perceived Miracle Elbow Surgery Becoming Common Among Younger Pitchers”  by Zachery Osterman, Indians Daily Student 4/18/2008

4.  “A Comparative Electromyographic Analysis of the Shoulder During Pitching: Professional versus Amateur Pitchers”  by Ivan D. Gowan, Frank W. Jobe, James E Tibone, Jacquelin Perry and Diane R. Moynes, American Journal of Sports Medicine. 1987; 15; 586

5.  Relationship Between maximum Shoulder External rotation Angle During Throwing and Physical Variables”  by Koji Miyashita, Yukio Urabe, Hirokazu Kobayashi, Kiyoshi Yokoe, Sentaro Kushida, Morio Kawamura and Kunio Ida,  Journal of Sports Science and Medicine (2008) 7, 47-53  accepted 12 November 2007 / published online 1 March 2008

Geoff Zahn was a Major League pitcher for 12 years, winning more than 100 games while pitching for the Dodgers, Cubs, Twins, and Angels. He served as the head baseball coach at the University of Michigan for six years. Geoff has been a clinician and speaker for more than 25 years and currently teaches and consults with pitchers from youth leagues to the big leagues through his Master Pitching Institute and the Michigan Sports Academy. You can reach him at
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