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Your child’s health: Pitch count and arm fatigue

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CLEVELAND - In the game of baseball, Little Leaguers look for a win.  But it should not come at all costs.  Dr. Allison Gilmore, a Pediatric Orthopedist with Rainbow Babies and Children's Hospital is seeing an increasing number of overuse injuries of the elbow and shoulder among young pitchers. "Most the time these were younger kids.  And, they were coming in with elbow pain, shoulder pain. The repetitive throwing puts a lot of stress, especially on open growth plates," Dr. Gilmore said.

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According to the guidelines set by the American Academy of Pediatrics, a child 10 and under should throw no more than 75 pitches a day. That includes during warm up and the game. The pitch count increases 10 per day for older children, with a maximum of 105 pitches a day for pitchers 17 to 18. “Kids are not supposed to have more than one thousand pitches per season,” Dr. Gilmore added.

In a survey, Dr. Gilmore found most area youth baseball coaches are aware of pitch count, but don't always keep track.  "It was 44 percent of coaches did not use pitch count.  And, the reasons they cited for not using pitch counts were basically it was hard to have enough personnel to write down all the pitches that each player is making."   Sometimes, coaches will have the player’s parent or someone in the stands count the pitches.

Coaches like Mike Ferrari of the Willoughby Wildcats count innings rather than pitches. "It's a maximum of three innings and then 24 hours off and then they can throw again. We’ll get a kid that will throw maybe fifty pitches.  You can tell when a kid starts to labor, “Ferrari said.

When it comes to overuse, Dr. Gilmore says rest is best. "In a year duration, they really should have four months off from any type of throwing or any type of sport that requires overhead throwing activities,” she said.

Dr. Gilmore said catchers can also experience arm fatigue, because of the amount of throwing they do during a game.  "Catching and pitching are basically the two most repetitive areas where people have lots and lots of overuse injuries. I want them to have fun, but I want them to do it safely," Dr. Gilmore added.

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