Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Chris Withrow will likely need Tommy John surgery because of a torn UCL in his pitching elbow. He's seeking a second opinion, but we've heard this story before. In a week or so, he'll have his elbow ligament fixed, then Withrow will miss the next year or so.
Pitchers — especially young pitchers — are dropping like flies this season. Withrow is 24 and throws 95, so he's not quite Miami Marlins ace Jose Fernandez, but he still epitomizes some of what leading sports surgeon Dr. James Andrews wrote in a newly released position statement about the Tommy John "epidemic."
The paper was published by the American Sports Medicine Institute, an organization co-founded by Andrews, which has become the go-to think tank for pitching injuries. More than 40 major and minor leaguers have needed Tommy John surgery since February, so the epidemic tag isn't hyperbole.
Dr. Andrews' paper is a good read, so The Stew recommends digesting it all. But perhaps the most important takeaway is this: Pitchers shouldn't be trying to light up the radar gun. The harder a pitcher throws, the more at risk he is.
Here are a few of Andrews' recommendations for reducing the risk of Tommy John surgery:
• Do not always pitch with 100% effort. The best professional pitchers pitch with a range of ball velocity, good ball movement, good control, and consistent mechanics among their pitches. The professional pitcher’s objectives are to prevent baserunners and runs, not to light up the radar gun.
• Flat-ground throwing drills and bullpen sessions should not always be at maximum effort. Reduced effort will allow for physical fitness and technique without adding undue stress to the UCL.
• Be wary of pitching in winter league baseball. The UCL and body need time to recover and build strength, so the concept of annual periodization should include adequate rest from full-effort pitching.
• Pitchers with high ball velocity are at increased risk of injury. The higher the ball velocity, the more important to follow the guidelines above.
Andrews' paper also says the rash of UCL injuries is a long time in the making, after years of elbow wear on pitchers who have been groomed in an era where year-round baseball is more prevalent. So these recommendations shouldn't just be considered for big leaguers, but pro pitchers at any level and probably amateur pitchers at the highest levels too.
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