SportsEvents Magazine

OCT 2016

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Page 6 of 59 2017 Baseball/Softball Sourcebook 7 ONE- on- ONE t One-on-One features an interview with an influential member of the sports community concern- ing a specific topic. This month, Glenn S. Fleisig, Ph.D., Research Director at the American Sports Medicine Institute, discusses throwing injuries to elbows and shoulders from overuse. BY JOHN REZELL One- on- One Armed & Dangerous Fleisig Imagine the avalanche of thoughts racing through a pitcher's mind after hearing a pop or snap, then feeling a searing pain explode throughout the throwing arm. A conscientious pitcher might have perfect throwing mechanics, a safe vari- ety of pitches to choose from, relentless attention to strength conditioning and even a top-flight nutritional program, yet still experience that pop. So why? Why does that pitcher's arm now dangle limp? The answer is simple: Overuse. "Almost all [throwing] injuries are overuse injuries," said Glenn S. Fleisig, Ph.D., Research Director at the American Sports Medicine Institute in Birmingham, AL. "Regardless if readers have stories that this pitcher threw and it was a cold day or on one pitch he felt a pop or snap, this is misleading. A pitcher may say 'I hurt it that day or that time,' but that is just the last straw." For more than 30 years, Fleisig and his colleagues have studied throwing injuries to elbows and shoulders, and their research points to overuse as the pri- mary cause. The number of injuries has increased dramatically over the years as pitchers push their arms past their limits by playing year-round or throwing too much during the season. A recent study published in The Amer- ican Journal of Sports Medicine revealed that nearly 57 percent of the Tommy John surgeries in the U.S. were being per- formed on pitchers in the 15- to 19-year- old age group. At the same time, a staggering number of professional pitchers have been getting the surgery, in which an elbow ligament is replaced by a tendon taken from anoth- er part of the body. Tommy John surgery was named after the Major League pitch- er who first had the surgery in 1974. Fleisig collaborates with the renowned surgeon Dr. James Andrews, who hired him in the mid-1980s to study throw- ing-arm injuries. "By the 1990s, we noticed something alarming in the medical practice that we work with — Dr. Andrews and his part- ners," Fleisig said. "We were seeing more injuries among all ages of baseball pitchers but the youth and high school group was becoming a bigger portion. That trend has continued to rise during the past twenty years at epidemic rates." Fleisig and his co-investigators focused on finding preventative measures to stem the flood of injuries. "We looked at various risk factors," Fleisig said. "Was it bad mechanics? Was it the types of pitches they threw? Or other factors? "It turns out that these things are im- portant, but they are secondary. The one and only primary factor on who gets hurt is how much you pitch and how much you rest and recover. So the next question was 'what is the right amount?' " When Major League Baseball endured a rash of injuries in the spring of 2014 to many high-profile pitchers, the Commis- sioner created a committee, including Fleisig, to study the problem. "What our committee of scientists and doctors concluded was it isn't really a Major League Baseball problem and it's not a youth baseball problem, but it is a baseball problem," Fleisig said. "And that these injuries in the pro pitchers started for them as amateurs. Therefore, the solu- tion has to be throughout the whole chain, from youth leagues to Major Leagues." Major League Baseball partnered with USA Baseball and created the website to offer advice and guide- lines for monitoring pitch counts. "That website has some very tangible advice for parents, leagues and coaches to prevent injuries," Fleisig said. "You will see pitch count limits. So if you pitch this many pitches in a game, you should rest this many days. It also includes limits for how much you should pitch per calendar year. This is a big step for preventing injuries." While many youth leagues have rules for pitch counts, it is up to the individual to monitor his or her activity and rest. With the proliferation of year-round play in multiple programs, the onus is on the individual and parents. ►

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