Let’s recap what the UCL tear is. A UCL tear is a tear in the ligament that occurs after repetitive throwing motions. At the age of 10-16 year’s kid’s bodies are really starting to develop. The growth plate is still open in their elbow during that time, meaning that kids shouldn’t be putting any more stress on that elbow than they need too. Ten to sixteen year olds are throwing the ball more and more and at the same time the number of young pitchers who are having Tommy John surgery is also increasing. Coincidence? I think not. Take Stephen Strasburg for example. He had surgery at the age of 22. Part of the reason why he injured him self was poor mechanics, but also because of the amount of throwing he had done up to that point in his career.
How can we help to lower the risk of kids one day injuring their UCL? Kids cannot stop throwing the baseball all together because we would not have baseball then, but what we can limit is the type of pitches kids are throwing. The human body is not designed to throw a baseball like we do, especially at such a young age. What can be done is limiting the number of throws a kid takes not only during the game, but after the game also. People make a big deal about pitch count, but don’t pay attention to the pitch count kids add up while throwing the ball with their friend in the yard, when they are warming up for the game, when they are warming up in-between innings and while they practice. Parents and coaches need to limit those types of throws and so does the individual, as they get older. Parents and coaches also need to give their kids time off during the off-season. Let the arm rest and recover for a few months and when they do start to throw again slowly ease back into it, don’t just start doing a lot of throwing. Lastly parents and coaches need to wait to teach their children how to throw breaking balls. Wait until the child is at least 14 until they start to throw the curveball or slider, so that their body and arm can develop and have as little stress as possible on it.
How do I know all this? I know this because I was also that child. I hurt my elbow when I was about 13 years old. I don’t blame my parents because I was one who chose to push my self, but I messed up looking back on it. From the age of 11-15 I would play baseball year round not taking a week off. In the summer it was baseball everyday and offseason it was three days of constant pitching with a pitching coach. By the time I got to high school my arm would start to hurt after a couple of innings. I ended up only playing one year, in large part because of that. In order to stop this alarming number of Tommy John surgeries that go on every year, we need to start from the beginning and educate the parents and players on how to keep their arm healthy and not over use their arm.