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The Debate Over Little-League Curveballs

Posted Mar 12 2012 6:24pm

 And the debate over little leaguers throwing curve balls rages on. This time there is evidence suggesting that throwing curve balls at a young age doesn’t hurt a little-leaguers elbow .

“Science is banging heads with intuition and gut instinct,” said Glenn Fleisig, the research director of the American Sports Medicine Institute, who has conducted studies on breaking balls and young arms since 1996. “For years, we told people that curveballs were bad. Then we set out to prove it. We  did not prove  curveballs are safe, but we could not prove they were dangerous.”

Dr. James Andrews, the founder of the American Sports Medicine Institute in Birmingham, AL, is the author of several studies with Fleisig that failed to prove that curveballs cause excessive damage to the young pitcher’s elbow.

“What we found out in the lab is true,” Andrews said. “For pitchers with proper mechanics, the force of throwing a curveball is no greater than for a fastball. But that’s not what happens in reality on the baseball field. Many kids don’t have proper mechanics or enough neuromuscular control, or they are fatigued when throwing curveballs. Things break down. Those are the kids I’m seeing every day in my operating room.”

I believe the key part of Dr. Andrews‘ statement is his mention of proper mechanics. However, while he’s talking about pitching mechanics, I think the focus needs to be on biomechanics. If a pitcher’s shoulder isn’t in the proper position and his hips are out of balance and alignment, there will be a tremendous amount of stress placed on his elbow. Regardless of whether he is throwing a fastball, curveball or merely playing catch with a buddy, he will be at risk of injuring his elbow (or something else for that matter).

There is no way that this kid will be able to throw a baseball functionally:

With his compromised posture, this child is at risk for injury regardless of what activity he chooses. But just imagine him trying to throw a curve ball, requiring him to twist and torque his elbow and the ligaments surrounding it. The result will NOT be good.

I sincerely hope Dr. Andrews that the staff at ASMI will continue to research this topic. And, I would love to see them incorporate Egoscue into their rehab regimen, or better yet, they pre-hab regimen. Our youth cannot afford to ignore their posture any longer. If they do, Dr. Andrews and his staff will continue operating on younger and younger arms.

QUESTION: Do you think Little Leaguers throwing curveballs are in danger of injury?

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