As a baseball fan, this week I’m excited to see the curtain rise on the Great American Pastime. Baseball season is here!

As a doctor, I’m alarmed at yet another opening act- another kid who needs “Tommy John” surgery to repair a torn elbow ligament.

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Within the week, several studies have come out which take a look at the arm of young American baseball players. And the numbers aren’t pretty. The number of adolescents and teens having elbow repairs has jumped so much over the past ten years, it’s hard to keep track of just how fast those numbers have jumped. IIt seems like a surgical scar is now a rite of passage for a young ballplayer.

We used to think the curveball was the enemy. It still doesn’t have the greatest reputation among young hurlers, but we are now recognizing that there are other reasons for an arm to die. Mainly it’s throwing too much, and throwing too hard. The human elbow was simply not designed for year-round speedball after speedball.

The highest rates tend to be in kids who play in a spring league, a summer league, a fall league, a travel team, and then work out through the winter to get ready to start the cycle again.

It’s not like the “old days” when kids were allowed to play a different sport each season.

So a parent, there are a few things to keep in mind:

More is not better.

Pitch counts are hugely important.

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Playing different positions is a good idea. So is playing a different sport at different times of the year.

The first signs of an elbow problem tend to be arm fatigue, lower velocity (or a slower ball), and elbow pain. These are all danger signs.

Run if you see a radar gun. They should be outlawed at younger levels.

Make sure your kid is being taught proper mechanics

Don’t be a believer that “Tommy John” surgery to repair a torn elbow ligament will actually help your child play better.

 

Certainly there are no guarantees in life. Arm problems can pop up even under the best of circumstances. But if you ever have any dreams of running on to the field of a major league ballpark, you’ll work your way there by following some common sense rules.

Go Rox!

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Dr. Dave Hnida is CBS4’s Medical Editor. He blogs about the latest studies and trends in the health world. Read his latest blog entries, check out his bio or follow him on Twitter @drdavehnida.