The (Injured) Boys of Summer

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It’s that time of year again. Buds are sprouting on the trees, all things are made new again, and the crack of the bat (or ping) can be heard at the local baseball field. As John Fogerty so aptly put it: “Well, beat the drum and hold the phone, the sun came out today! We’re born again, there’s new grass on the field.” It’s baseball season. One of the best days of the year for me, and honestly one of the days that I most look forward to, is the day when pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training. For me it signals new beginnings. All is right with the world. And, the Yankees are on their way to World Series title #28.

I also think about all the injuries that will take place. If you’re a Minnesota Twins fan, your team has already taken a huge hit with the potential loss of closer Joe Nathan for the season. Nathan experienced elbow pain in a game a few days ago and an MRI has revealed a tear in the ligaments in his elbow. And, oh by the way, Nathan is coming off off-season elbow surgery performed by Dr. James Andrews in Birmingham. For those of you who don’t know Dr. Andrews, he is the guy when it comes to arm surgery. If you need surgery, you go to Andrews. Period. And if you ever hear of a professional athlete going to see Dr. Andrews, you should prepare for the worst if you’re a fan of his or her team.

And, then there was this article from Yahoo Health the other day about the rise of little league elbow injuries. I couldn’t help but cringe when reading it. There is an alarming rate of arm injuries in little league baseball. More importantly, and equally alarming, there is an alarming rate of are surgeries in these pre-teen baseball players. Twelve year olds are getting Tommy John surgery. Ten year olds are having their rotator cuffs surgically repaired. It’s scary, scary stuff folks.

The article attributed the injuries to a few different factors. A couple of them I don’t necessarily agree with, but there was one that hit the nail right on the head:

“Children specializing in a single sport, or even position, at younger and younger ages, leaving them more prone to overuse injuries.”
I have a problem with blanket statements such as injuries being due to ‘overuse’. If you have two kids on the same team who are strictly pitchers (and doing the same amount of work) and one has an ‘overuse’ injury and the other one doesn’t, then you can’t blame the sport or position. Also, I think it’s noteworthy that when the athlete who is the starting quarterback, point guard, and stud pitcher does go down with an arm injury, no one claims that he’s using his throwing/shooting arm too much. His specialization of one sport shouldn’t be blamed on his injury, but I believe getting too sport-specific can lead to an overall lack of function. I’ll propose that the lack of other types of movements required for those various sports brought with them an increase of overall function to the body. It’s the old ‘move-it-or-lose-it’ scenario. He or she is focusing on one sport and therefore not necessarily getting a varying range of motion from the other sports.

“Young athletes also play more months out of the year than they used to.”
Yeah, maybe. I played college baseball with guys from Texas who grew up playing 12 months out of the year. And, I don’t care who you are or what your sport is, there really isn’t an ‘off’-season. If you want to even be competitive, you have to practice all year long. Why isn’t anyone questioning the summer basketball programs and AAU leagues when their players go down with knee injuries? Apparently, they aren’t playing too much. When I was 12, my little league team played almost 75 games, and all in just a few months. We played multiple games a week, countless games on weekends, too many double-headers to remember. Playing a lot of games isn’t a new fad. In fact, it has been around forever. Think back to your childhood. Granted, they might not have been organized baseball games, but how many of you remember your mothers telling you to be home by sundown and you’d spend the whole day playing baseball (or any other sport or activity) at the neighborhood field?

“A third reason is that pitchers, who bear the brunt of the injuries, now throw curve balls and sliders at younger ages.”
I couldn’t agree more with this reason. I think it’s a travesty that kids are allowed to throw anything off-speed at all. The only thing I would suggest youth pitchers throw are fastballs and changeups. They need to learn how to locate their pitches before they learn various types of pitches. With the younger body still growing, putting that kind of torque on the joints, ligaments, and tendons can be very harmful.

I think one of the main reasons that these kids are getting injured isn’t necessarily because of their ‘bad’ elbows or shoulders or ‘overuse’ due to their sports. I think it has everything to do with the position of the body they are bringing to their sport. Keep in mind, this is the typical athlete of this young generation: deconditioned and dysfunctional.

Can you imagine this kid (or any of his peers whose posture is the same) throwing a baseball, shooting a basketball or even playing a simple game of tag? His upper spine is completely flexed, his shoulders are severely hinged forward, and his pelvis is starting to drift posterior. There is no way his shoulder is going to be doing anything close to its proper designed function of throwing, shooting, or ‘tagging’ when his body is in this position. The sad thing is that this is the typical posture of this younger generation. It’s the ‘video game’ posture. This generation is staying in the slumped ‘gaming’ posture throughout their day, and (let’s put all athletics and activities aside for a moment) it’s killing them. The body is not designed to function in this position.

Like I said before, I cringed when I read the article, and it wasn’t because of the injuries. I cringed because I know what the kids look like. They look like the child above. We have to stop blaming the sport, the specialization of one sport or position, and ‘overuse’. Minnesota Twins closer Joe Nathan falls into the same group. Whether it’s a little leaguer with big-league dreams, or one of the best closers in the game, when attempting to eliminate all of these problems, we have to stay focused on the position of the body rather than the condition of the body.