With baseball season in “full swing” it is always a great time to remind coaches, athletes and parents that overuse injuries from this sport can be prevalent if prevention tactics are not addressed early in the season. One of the most devastating injuries to a young baseball player can be the Tommy John surgery. Tommy John surgery is a reconstruction of the ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) of the elbow. A tendon from elsewhere in the body is used to repair a torn or ruptured UCL. It was first performed by Dr. Frank Jobe in 1974 on Tommy John, a pitcher for the Los Angeles Dodgers. New York Mets’ own Matt Harvey experienced this injury and fought back hard to be named the National League Comeback Player of the Year, proving that there is life after Tommy John surgery (TJS). Though TJS is not necessarily a procedure an athlete wants to endure.
The New York Times did a big spread on the battle scars post-Tommy John surgery* (http://mobile.nytimes.com/2015/10/07/sports/baseball/with-tommy-john-surgery-every-scar-tells-a-story.html?referer=&_r=1), reminding us of the bittersweet victories pitchers secure for their teams.
* Tommy John surgery (TJS) is also called ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) reconstruction. TJS is a graft procedure whereby the ulnar collateral ligament in the medial elbow is replaced with a tendon from elsewhere in the body. TJS is common among collegiate and professional athletes, most notably baseball players.
The NYT article got us thinking about the ways we can help our teen athletes, who often begin pitching as early as age five, have long HEALTHY baseball-playing careers. We developed the three “S’s” to include in any strength and conditioning program to ensure you or your young athlete doesn’t end up on the physical therapy (or surgery) table:
1.STRENGTHEN the Shoulders, Core and Arms
To protect the puny elbow, and the ligaments and muscles attached to it, you have to strengthen ALL surrounding body parts. Band work, weight training and even ball squeezes to beef up the forearm will increase power and help stabilize weaker body parts. Cross-training, which can include our yoga-for-athletes ProYoga classes, targets the core in a non-impact way.
2.STRETCH Your Arms
How many minutes a day do you or your teen athlete dedicate to stretching over-trained muscle groups or limbs? Pitchers have to keep the entire arm limber. Agility work such as shoulder rolls and swimmers’ stretches can give length and mobility to strained ligaments and muscles. Tightness in one area often leads to a pull or a tear in another. Be mindful of proper positioning and time yourself to know how long you hold a stretch for.
3.SWITCH Up Your Workouts
It’s important to take breaks, rest, switch up your training schedule. FACT: Repetitive exercise increases injury. But then how will your teen get recruited, go pro, continue playing on his school team? Don’t mistake quantity with quality. Just because an athlete throws so many balls at such and such a speed doesn’t mean he will still be playing the next spring! He might incur rotator cuff inflammation or the beginnings of an ulnar collateral ligament tear. A smart training program including rest days, which is highly recommended for most aches and pains.
If you follow our three S’s, you will significantly diminish your odds of requiring Tommy John or choosing a tattoo to go along with it. Your focus will be on fielding calls from baseball coaches and agents! As always, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or give us a call at 212-924-4920 with any questions.