Chris G. Koutures, MD, FAAP Pediatric and sports medicine specialist

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Filtering by Tag: elbow injuries

Pointing Out the Top 10 Pediatric Sports Musculoskeletal Injuries

The Top 10 Sports Musculoskeletal Sports Injury list is a ranking that I'm guessing most athletes don't want to make, and most parents don't want to miss.

How to best know if you belong on this list?

Trust your finger tips.

Speaking at the 2016 American Academy of Pediatrics National Convention and Exhibition, I was asked along with good friend and colleague Hank Chambers to share insight on identifying and managing the Top 10 Pediatric Sports Musculoskeletal Injuries with a Case-Based Review.

Our Top 10 aptly started at the top of the body (neck) and ran down to the bottom (foot/ankle) with several injuries in between.

We looked at:

Some were fairly serious and activity threatening, others were more of a nuisance.

A pretty diverse offering of injuries, so one would tend to think that there would be little that actually brings them together.

However, for those listening to the talk, they heard us mention a similar refrain over and over again.

The value of your finger tip.

In helping to determine a type of pain that merits medical attention in the first place, and helps sort out the particular diagnosis, the more localized the pain, the greater the potential concern.

For example,. if a child is reporting pain in the lower leg and uses a wave of the hand to indicate that the discomfort runs along the entire inner shin, then there is one level of concern.

However, if that same child takes the tip of their index finger and points directly and emphatically to a single spot on the inside of the shin bone, my concern is amped up several degrees.

While none of us have x-ray vision, that finding of finger-tip pain is a pretty good surrogate and does tend to correlate with a higher potential of a bone injury, be it a fracture, stress injury, or damage to a apophysis where a tendon attaches to a bone growth region.

So, no matter the body part, from elbow to wrist to foot or ankle, if any young athlete opts to use a finger tip to identify their pain, then use your finger tips to dial up your sports medicine specialist and seek out immediate and appropriate evaluation.



Protecting Adolescent Pitchers

If you happen to know an adolescent pitcher who has the fortune of being taller or throwing harder than his peers, chances are that he is perceived as a valuable asset on the diamond.  Often this attention and demand may lead to requests to play on  multiple teams at the same time.

Unfortunately, these unique characteristics may also lead to an increased risk of shoulder and elbow injuries that could derail the promise of future enjoyment of  baseball. 

video analysis of 420 adolescent baseball players along with review of pitching and injury histories found that for each 10-inch increase in a pitcher's height, 10 mile-per-hour increase in pitch velocity, or play for more than one team all significantly increased the risk of arm or shoulder injuries.

Does this mean that having a gun for an arm is a bad thing? Is being tall a negative in the injury world?

I think the reality is that anything that makes a young thrower stand out from peers leads to the temptation of overload and the resultant overuse arm and shoulder injuries. 

If proper perspective and patience is exercised, then less chance for badness down the road. However, if combination of all those talents mean requests for more appearances on the mound, playing for more than one team, and thus less overall rest periods, then that is when  the problems begin.

It is a natural to want to showcase talents, but for those who are blessed with certain gifts, ensuring appropriate rest during key developmental years can ward off those unwanted outcomes and lead to more enjoyment down the road.


Do Colder Climates Foster More Sensible Development of Pitchers?

For years, I have heard claims that some Major League Teams favor drafting pitchers who grew up in colder climates.

The reason?

Fewer months able to be spent outside likely means fewer competitive pitches thrown, fewer innings pitched, and perhaps less risk of cumulative stress to shoulders and elbows. Practicing pediatric sports medicine in almost too sunny Southern California (yes indeed, we desperately need rain) I commonly encounter young throwers who pitch most if not almost all months of the year.

Now, thanks to the recent study Is Tommy John Surgery Performed More Frequently in Major League Baseball Pitchers From Warm Weather Areas?, there might actually be some scientific confirmation to these concerns.

Based on rates of elbow medial ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) reconstruction (commonly known as Tommy John Surgery) in Major League pitchers who played high school baseball in warmer vs. colder climates (defined by latitude on map and mean average temperatures), those who grew up in the warmth were found to have a more frequent and earlier UCL reconstructions than players who grew up in the colder environments.

I also found another interesting finding that almost 2/3 of the Major League pitchers in the study pool from 1974 to June 1, 2014 were from colder climates, while by the definitions utilized of warmer vs. colder climates, almost 2/3 of the 73 total studied areas were in colder climates while only 23 of 73 areas were defined as warmer. This correlation does make sense from a general statistical model, but when considering that the warmer areas contain purported baseball hotbeds such as California, Florida, Texas and countries in the Caribbean, Central and South America, the 2/3 proportion coming from colder climates again might support the higher risk cumulative stress and injury in warmer, more possible year-round baseball climates. Perhaps hibernating from too much pitching is ultimately a protective and positive thing and not just another reason to complain about bad weather in certain regions.

The published results on Major League pitchers should not be directly correlated with injury risk to pitchers at the pre-high school, high school and even collegiate or minor league levels. However, if similar studies were conducted at those levels with comparison of UCL reconstruction rates between  climates, I wouldn't be too surprised if the surgical frequencies were higher in warmer climates and possibly starting at younger ages as well.

The upshot of this post is not an endorsement or call for relocation to colder climates to foster a potential Major League Pitching career, but rather a cautionary tale that even in those fortunate and talented enough to pitch in the Major Leagues, the potential blessings to have year-round chances to competitively pitch must be tempered with the need for adequate rest and recovery. I think this need to not take undue advantage of virtually unlimited pitching opportunities does definitely correlate down to school-age and collegiate/minor league pitchers.

Once again, we are getting the message that more is not often better, especially in the long-term development of young athletes.

Getting Safety Info to Those in Need - Are We Best Protecting Young Arms?

The pediatric sports medicine community has diligently produced statements about common injuries and prevention/treatment strategies. We'd like to think that these recommendations are making their way to the playing fields to benefit coaches, parents and players. This is the first in a series of blog posts addressing the current realities of translating safety policy into actual practice. I welcome thoughts and suggestions on how to best perform this key role.

I've had the pleasure of coaching my young twin sons in baseball over the past two seasons, and like many coaches I constantly wonder about how well I am doing with teaching the basics and strategies of this great sport.

Put me in my pediatric sports medicine specialist role, and once again, I am constantly wondering about how well we in the injury prevention community are doing with teaching the basics of injury prevention and translating our knowledge to fellow coaches, parents, and ultimately, to our players.

Let's take the case of arm injuries in young pitchers as an example.

After the realization that too much throwing over the course of a single season and through an entire year both increase the risk of elbow and shoulder injuries in young pitchers, well-researched Pitch Count Recommendations in Young Pitchers were developed and promoted by many sports medicine groups and youth baseball organizations. These guidelines included not allowing young pitchers to throw with any aspect of shoulder or elbow pain.

So, with these great recommendations discussed in lecture halls, outlined on websites, and passed out on brochures and handouts, how are they actually playing out on the diamonds?

Based on the results of two recent studies, those efforts appear to be mostly striking out.

Allison Gilmore, MD and colleagues from Case Western University in Cleveland, OH presented some unique findings from a recent study indicating that pitch count recommendations are not routinely utilized by Little League coaches or parents.

  • 100% of the 61 studied coaches were aware of the pitch count recommendations and did limit pitches thrown by players in some way, and 92% of the coaches knew that arm fatigue was a risk factor for future injury
  • However, when asked about actual implementation of pitch counts to address injury concerns, 44% did not use pitch counts on a regular basis
  • Less than 10% of coaches regularly monitored and set safe limits for amount of pitching over the course of a year, and 41% reported having players who were at-risk for arm injuries due to playing on more than one baseball team during a particular season. These findings probably fall at least equally on the shoulders of parents who allow the year-round or multiple team participation.

  • The apparent acute impact of this lack of compliance? More than 1/3 of coaches had a player unable to play due to an overuse injury.

  • Reasons cited for not following the recommendations?
    • Lack of knowledge
    • Lack of staff to track pitch counts
    • Lack of desire to want to do what was viewed as a tedious task

These results echo those of 2012 study on Knowledge and Compliance With Pitch Count Recommendations: A Survey of Youth Baseball Coaches which had 228 Little League (age 9-15) coaches complete an 18 question survey testing knowledge of pitch count recommendations that indicated:

  • Only 43% of questions were correctly answered
  • 73% reported following pitch count recommendations
  • 53% of coaches felt that other coaches in same league followed the recommendations
  • 35% stated that their pitchers reported shoulder and elbow pain during the season, with 19% reporting one of their pitchers threw with a sore or fatigued arm during the season.

Significant conclusions included concerns over difficulties of coaches following unfamiliar recommendations and potential of greater enforcement efforts by leagues.

As I mull over the findings of these studies, I struggle with the apparent gap between policy and practice and how to best bridge the gap.

Perhaps we in the sports medicine field are the victims of outstanding results of our surgical and rehabilitative efforts? The growing list of pitchers returning to star on the field after potentially career-threatening arm injuries may give an elevated or almost false hope that injury prevention is less important because amazing treatment results are readily available.

Perhaps its because as parents and coaches we still hang on to the adolescent vibe of invincibility- that nothing bad will happen to our kids.

Perhaps the teachers haven't found out the optimal ways to best reach and teach. Is it social media, videos, 1:1 tutorials, high profile pleas?

For now, the wondering will go on.

Preventing Elbow Injuries- There's (soon to be) an App for That.

Be on the lookout for the Throw Like a Pro App designed by the noted duo of orthopedic sports surgeon James Andrews and physical therapist Kevin Wilk. To be released in the next few weeks, it is designed not only to monitor pitch counts, but also to educate players, parents, and coaches about how to prevent elbow injuries.