The Great Curveball Debate!
We are at a cross-road for sure when it comes to the mounting debate over whether we should effectively ban the curveball from our Little Leagues. Yes, injuries are at near epidemic levels. www.stopsportsinjuries.org reports that “twenty percent of children ages 8 to 12 and 45 percent of those ages 13 to 14 will have arm pain during a single youth baseball season; and this is growing! I as a physical therapist for the last 10 years have definitely seen the trend of 12 -14 year old throwers with injuries requiring surgery. The question is WHY is this happening?
I myself have stood on many a soap box and discussed with my patients the necessity of “proper mechanics” and “preparation” for throwing. I have also weighed in on pitch counts as well as when to throw a curveball. None of the answers are easy, and quite frankly, I’m not sure that there is an answer that practically serves ALL of our athletes.
On the topic of the curveball, I can definitely say that I am NOT in favor of banning the curveball in our little leagues. That doesn’t mean that I am endorsing teaching everyone. It simply means that I feel that each case is individual and we need to be able to effectively assess rhythm, mechanics, and effort level, when determining which athlete is capable of throwing a curveball. With that said, it’s probably fair to say that there are an equal amount of 17 year olds that aren’t capable as there are 12 year olds whom are capable of throwing a curveball! Furthermore, there is no research at this time that suggests the curveball places any more undue stress on a pitcher’s arm than a fastball.
So then, WHY! I feel “why” is better answered with physical preparation! I’d even go as far as to say that most overuse injuries in baseball pitchers are actually under-use injuries! That’s right under-use. But don’t take away the wrong message here. Why do you think that the perception of “Tommy John” surgery is an improvement for pitchers and that “you throw harder following the surgery?” I’ll tell you….BECAUSE FOR THE LAST YEAR YOU WERE PERFORMING SCAPULAR, SHOULDER, HIP, and PELVIC, STRENGTHENING AND STABILIZATION EXERCISES, and appropriately progressed through an Interval Throwing Program!!!!! Everything that should have been done in order to prevent the injury from the beginning. An extension of this is the decreased frequency by which our young throwers actually get a chance to throw….not pitch….but throw. This is at the heart of what I mean by Under-use injury. If our youth pitchers could increase their amount of throwing they could perform, within the context of a supervised Interval Throwing Program, I feel like we would see an increase in the durability of our throwers. Furthermore, if our initial goals were focused upon command and velocity, we’d have less reason to develop a curveball at such an early age. Even before a pitch is thrown, with a pre-participation screen to identify injury predispositions, and areas of individual need, we could drastically reduce the rate at which our throwers are being injured.
I would love to hear your thoughts, and if you are interested, provide you a pre-participation screen. Please don’t hesitate to reach out and I would be happy to hear your likes, dislikes, and opinions on any of the issues discussed here. Unfortunately, the problem is much too large to solve within the context of this newsletter, and it’s not something that can be done alone. As a former collegiate baseball player myself as well as physical therapist, and dad, thanks for allowing me to weigh in. Together, we can reduce the rate at which our athletes are being injured.