Overuse injuries in youth sports on the rise
Posted July 22
Updated July 23
Cary, N.C. — 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.