Young pitchers need help to avoid becoming part of a Major League Baseball epidemic in Tommy John elbow reconstruction procedures, orthopedic surgeon James Andrews said.
Andrews, a founding member of the Andrews Sports Medicine and Orthopedic Center in Birmingham, Alabama, has helped create a mobile application called “Throw Like a Pro” to help young players, coaches and parents avoid pitching injuries. The app will be available for purchase next month.
More than 30 percent of high school pitchers drafted between 2010 and 2012 have undergone Tommy John surgery, more than double the rate from 2002 to 2009, Andrews said. Among major league pitchers lost for this season to the procedure, in which the torn ulnar collateral ligament in the elbow is replaced, are Jose Fernandez of the Miami Marlins, Matt Harvey of the New York Mets, Matt Moore of the Tampa Bay Rays, Ivan Nova of the New York Yankees and Kris Medlen of the Atlanta Braves.
“For the first time kids and parents everywhere will have access to the information and routines that we hope will put an end to this epidemic,” said the 71-year-old Andrews, a founder of the non-profit American Sports Medicine Institute, which is dedicated to injury prevention, education and research in orthopedics and sports medicine.
The app, also created with Dr. Kevin Wilk and Abracadabra Health, includes a preseason preparation guide for players, inseason recommendations and warm-up guidelines, a pitch count and rest calculator, and information about overuse injuries. Andrews said at least 60 percent of overuse injuries can be prevented with proper knowledge and preparation.
Andrews and the ASMI this week released a study that said the injuries to many young major league pitchers that led to Tommy John surgery began while they were adolescents. The operation was named after the former pitcher who first had the procedure in 1974. It typically requires a year to 18 months of rehabilitation.
MLB Medical Director Gary Green said in an e-mail this month that the league has been investigating UCL injuries for a few years, though it’s premature to release those findings. The sport is trying to identify the injury risks and develop a prevention program similar to the National Football League’s protocols for protection against torn anterior cruciate knee ligaments, Green said.
The amount of competitive pitching, and pitching while fatigued, are “strongly linked” to the injury, the study said, while other risk factors include poor pitching mechanics and a lack of physical conditioning.
Andrews said adolescent players pitching competitively more than eight months out of the year are five times more likely to sustain an elbow or shoulder injury, while the risk level for players averaging more than 85 pitches per outing is four times greater.
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