Dr. James Andrews says he has been "inundated" in recent years during the months of January, February and March performing Tommy John elbow ligament replacement surgeries on college freshmen and high-school pitchers. If you're wondering why professional baseball has seen an increase in UCL injuries in recent seasons, Andrews' increased surgical business in winter for kids and young adults is a good place to start looking for clues.
Then, and even younger, Andrews told MLB Network Radio on the Sirius/XM satellite system:
"So you can usually go back and see a minor injury from when they were a young kid throwing youth baseball that was not recognized, but it set them up for a major injury somewhere down the road. If we can keep these kids clean through high school, then we’re going to see a lot less number of them getting hurt as they become mature college players and professional players. So you’ve got to prevent it at a young age."
Andrews also is surgeon for major leaguers and just saw left-hander Matt Moore of the Tampa Bay Rays, diagnosing him with a partially torn UCL. If Moore elects to have surgery, he'll be the 12th major leaguer to get Tommy John in 2014.
"I think it’s a trend," Andrews said.
Here's an audio clip of Andrews' interview with Mike Ferrin and Jim Duquette:
OK, so what can be done to stop it? Stop it completely? Nothing.
"You can’t prevent ‘em," Andrews said. "We can probably cut down the early injury rate. But kids that are playing and throwing so hard and are so competitive in professional baseball, you realize the dollar sign that’s on top of them, pushing them so hard. So you’re not going to prevent all of them. It’s like trying to prevent ACL injuries in the knee — it’s impossible."
Prevention is impossible, but controlling the rate and lowering it could be done — when the major leaguers are children. Here are some of the demons to watch for:
• Playing baseball year-round is dangerous to developing bodies — there's no recovery time, which is essential
• Playing in more than one league at the same time (to get around innings restrictions)
• Pitching in showcases for scouts and overdoing it on velocity — the "red line" for Tommy John in high school is 80-85 mph
• Throwing breaking balls at too young of an age
• Poor pitching mechanics
"We’d like to control it better," Andrews said. "But if you look at these kids that are professionals that have an injury and maybe at a younger age on their way up — one of them I studied today has a little ossification in his ligament that probably occurred when he was 12."
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