It all starts with education, not science

9/10/2013

youth sports tommy john surgery

Even if you are just an average baseball fan, you probably have heard of Tommy John surgery. For those who may not be familiar with it, the surgery is a procedure that replaces an injured elbow ligament with a tendon taken from elsewhere in the body.

And unfortunately, data is showing there is an alarming trend in more and more young players undergoing this surgery. According to the American Sports Medicine Institute, one out of every four patients for the surgery are teenagers. This is a substantial increase from the one out of 10 ratio they found during the 1990s.

Even harder to imagine is that in many cases the surgery is not even necessary! Yes, parents are actually voluntarily choosing to have their child go “under the knife” with the hopes of achieving fame – not just recovery.

The idea of Major League Baseball pitchers having Tommy John surgery and then coming back better is diluting the real reason for its success: not science but education.

It is believed that 80-90 percent of pitchers are back in the game within the first year of having the surgery. After a year and a half, the pitcher may even be better. But what isn’t being discussed is the fact that for a year and a half the player is not throwing any pitches. The player is resting, exercising and going through tedious and often painful rehab – all of which are essential in recovering from any sports injury.

And all of which have more of an impact on the recovery process then the surgery itself.  

In an interview earlier this year with Dr. Glen Fleisig, researcher with the American Sports Medicine Institute, he expands upon the issue and provides some reasons for it.

Thankfully, Little League has taken the lead in making sure our youth are protected. Establishing a pitch count by the number of pitches thrown, not innings played, is certainly a step in the right direction to help protect young arms.  But as coaches, as parents, and even as fans there is so much more we can do.

Becoming educated on how to prevent sports injuries really is just as important as learning how to fix them. This is one of many resourceful tools coaches and parents have access to as an NYSCA or PAYS member, respectively.

Difficult as it may be for youth to learn patience now when participating in sports, the benefit is well worth it down the road, in helping to ensure the player does not eventually become a patient.

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