Overuse injuries in youth sports on the rise

Posted July 22, 2014
Updated July 23, 2014

— Rehabbing an injured arm is not the best way to spend summer vacation.

“Very time consuming,” said Fallon Sullivan, a rising senior at Middle Creek High School. “You go through so much, and you realize you have so much more work ahead of you. It really takes a toll on you.”

Sullivan is in the middle of 18 months of rehab. He’s 17 years old and recovering from a torn ligament in his elbow.

He had what’s called Tommy John surgery, a now-common procedure for athletes with throwing injuries named after the standout major league pitcher who first underwent the operation decades ago.

Fallon has been pitching seriously since the fifth grade. He’s had multiple elbow injuries including the latest rupture of his ligament. He admits throwing the baseball too often is partly to blame.

“When you count all of the practice bullpens I threw with my dad and the games, I think to an extent I was over-pitched,” he said.

Fallon isn’t alone. Duke orthopedic surgeon Dr. Grant Garrigues is seeing an increase in what doctors are calling overuse injuries in sports.

“The anecdotal evidence suggests that patients are throwing more now. They are on traveling teams, are on club teams,” Garrigues said. “They are not taking an offseason.”

Players who pitch more than eight months out of the year are five times more likely to get injured, according to Dr. James Andrews, known nationally for his work in sports medicine.

Pitching instructor Justin Orenduff is hoping to educate parents about the risks.

“There’s this culture of 'I have to play from a younger age if I want to make it big' so kids are feeling pressure and parents are feeling pressure to make sure you get on a good travel team if you want to properly develop,” Orenduff said.

Orenduff works with a team of instructors at I.T.S baseball in Hillsborough. He knows firsthand what a lack of rest can do to an arm. He was a first-round pick of the Los Angeles Dodgers before an injury ended his career.

“A lot of our kids now play on their Little League team, and they are on a travel team,” he said. “So how do you balance?

"'This kid is my best pitcher, but he’s also my best infielder, so if he pitches do I just sit him out and he’s not allowed to play anymore?' Orenduff asked. "The answer should be yes."

“This is really a cultural, societal, life impact. I know it’s important that you get this college scholarship, but let’s think about your career. Are you going to be able to keep doing that if you keep going at this pace?”

For Fallon, the answer was no.

He’s hoping his story will inspire other young pitchers to take time to rest.


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  • Fanny Chmelar Jul 24, 2014
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    View quoted thread

    LOL :) Naw, no friction at all. They all tried to help me at one sport or another and... well... I make a better software engineer...

    And I don't meant to degrade the experiences kids have playing sports by not subscribing to the pain/gain theory. I've seen what it can do and I would personally not do it. Glad y'all had fun, though!

  • common tater Jul 24, 2014

    I don't get what cell phones have to do with the overuse story. These kids aren't getting worn out and hurt due to the inactivity that's being implied, but due to starting at an early age and having to play in multiple leagues to compete.

  • uBnice Jul 24, 2014

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    I am no expert but it sounds as if you need to scale her back for her own sake. No dual sports and maybe limit how much she does soccer. I understand the human element of the pressure your 9 year old may feel to play because she must be special since she is playing with older girls, but it may be a situation where she is simply angry at daddy for pulling her back.

    Fortunately she is young enough with her body regenerating/growing that she can heal without further damage. Hopefully.

  • Hammerhead Jul 24, 2014

    View quoted thread

    I get a kick out of the term "tech geek" as if pushing buttons and being connected is more technically demanding than say, rebuilding a motor or building a house. Kinda like calling yourself a "foodie" I guess.

  • billybob72 Jul 24, 2014

    My 11 year old has played Little League Spring & Fall since 2009 but I think he's done now. He doesn't play on Travel teams, and my opinion is that Travel teams are not good for the kids. Travel teams start at 8&under here, and there are many kids who play Spring, Fall, All-Star, and one or more year-round Travel teams. Their skills grow far greater than the non-Travel players and the pitchers don't throw tricky stuff all the time, but they do work it in when needed. Once an excellent batter, it has become difficult for my son to hit against such pitchers. If they want to play on Travel teams, fine, but it ruins it for the kids who play only regular seasons for fun and exercise. Can also be dangerous for these kids, pitching so much. Regular season coaches only allow Travel team players to pitch. There are pitch counts but when you add regular season and Travel team pitching together, it is a lot.

  • John McCray Jul 24, 2014
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    Not missing the point if you are referring to my post. I still actively play sports at an amateur level and understand that injuries heal with rest, but chronically overused body parts do not heal as quickly from injuries as those that are not overstressed. And I am full aware of the hip issue as well, but at nine, the extra width in the hip hasn't fully developed.

    But you are absolutely correct about conditioning, which is why I have taken it upon myself to take her to a Physical Therapist for an evaluation and get ideas.

  • Garnerwolf1 Jul 24, 2014

    There is no one hard and fast rule for everyone. But bottom line, if your kid is playing one sport, year round, you're asking for trouble. And most coaches don't know all that much about strength and conditioning. Especially early on when the coach is usually a dad. That's why they have specialized S&C coaches in college and pros. The 'way they did it back in the day' is not necessarily the best way. If your kid continually has elbow, or knee, problems, you may want to re-think some things. Good luck!

  • Toddler10-21 Jul 24, 2014

    So right. Also Video games have taken over.

  • Garnerwolf1 Jul 24, 2014

    I think some of you are missing the point. It's about specializing at an early age and overuse. Not getting hurt playing. That happens to everyone. The kid in the story is 17. He's had multiple elbow injuries. "Here's your sign". And girls have different hips than boys which places greater stress on their knees. The proper kind of strength training can help. Unfortunately they usually are given a boy's program, if anything.

  • John McCray Jul 24, 2014
    user avatar

    I face this issue with my daughter playing soccer. She started playing "late" compared to a lot of the kids on her team at the age of 6, but she now plays with girls that as much as two years her senior. For a nine year old, that's a big difference. She has started mentioning some knee pain since a tournament injury this spring, which obviously has me worried. She also dual sported this spring playing both soccer and softball.

    As far as the interest piece, the title says "youth sports" but it seemed to focus solely on pitching. I was hoping to see a greater range of sports discussed.




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