Tigers opening day at Comerica Park marks the beginning of baseball season, and for many in Metro Detroit and across the country, it also means that the start of Little League Baseball isn't far behind. And like the big leaguers they emulate, in recent years there has been an upswing in shoulder and elbow injuries to Little League pitchers.
In an attempt to cut down on these injuries, Beaumont Hospitals Joe Guettler, M.D., orthopedic surgeon and sports medicine specialist, has been appointed to lead a national study sponsored by the American Orthopedic Society for Sports Medicine. The study will seek to gather information on thousands of Little League pitchers from around the country, and establish links between risk factors and throwing injuries. It will be the largest study of its kind in the world.
"When I was young, you played baseball in the spring and summer, and then other sports in the fall and winter," explains Dr. Guettler. "These days, kids are throwing year-round, and that places a tremendous amount of stress on the growing shoulders and elbows of these young pitchers - there is simply no time to recover."
Alarmingly, a leading sports medicine specialist says elbow reconstruction surgeries for young athletes in his practice is 16 times higher today than in the mid-1990s. Many parents have high expectations for their young throwers, and that means that summer league baseball is extended into winter travel teams, special camps, and year-round throwing. In addition, kids are simply pushed harder these days - starting younger, throwing harder, and doing it for more innings.
"We hope to establish the world's largest database to determine the risk factors for throwing problems in youngsters," says Dr. Guettler.
Phase II of the study will use advanced video camera and biomechanical analysis to compare good throwing technique with bad - and tell how these techniques lead to or could help prevent injury.
When can my child safely start throwing a curve ball? How many innings per week is safe? How many months of the year can my child throw? Dr. Guettler is confident that these questions, and many others, with soon be answered.