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H.S. pitchers who also play catcher more likely to sustain injuries

H.S. pitchers who also play catcher more likely to sustain injuries


New research published by the National Athletic Trainers’ Association (NATA) shows that high school pitchers who also play catcher, a common practice on many teams, suffer more injuries than pitchers who play other secondary positions.

“Parents can see studies like this and understand that there are ways to help your child protect themselves,” says Steve Donohue, head athletic trainer for the New York Yankees. “I wouldn’t want my son being a pitcher and a catcher on a high school team.”

There are already high rates of shoulder and elbow injuries in young pitchers because of the significant mechanical demand pitching places on the upper extremity. Pitchers account for 73 percent of injuries in high school baseball players, and approximately 10 percent require surgery.

“Clinicians, coaches and parents can use this information to determine secondary positions for pitchers to decrease injury risk,” says Dr. Elizabeth E. Hibberd, assistant professor in the Department of Health Science at the University of Alabama, a NATA member and lead author on the study. “Our findings suggest that pitchers should consider not playing catcher as their secondary position in order to allow adequate time for recovery and to decrease their overall throwing load.”

Although pitch limits are well established in baseball, the results of this new study indicate that a 2.9 times greater injury risk may result from cumulative throwing load from both pitching and non-pitching activities, and that monitoring pitch counts is not sufficient. Catchers throw significantly more than other fielding positions.

“They are two high-volume positions because you are throwing on every play,” Donohue says. “Every pitch is a maximum effort for a pitcher and a lot of throws from the catcher are max effort, too, making throws to second base or pickoff plays at first base. Arms are just not going to hold up while bones and growth plates are developing. It’s not a healthy scenario.”

The researchers studied 384 male high school baseball pitchers from 51 high school teams over three years. Of those athletes, 352 (97 percent) played a position in addition to pitcher, and 32 (8.3 percent) of them played catcher as their secondary position.

The researchers reported 24 throwing-related shoulder or elbow injuries among pitchers during the study period. Five injuries occurred in the pitcher/catcher group, resulting in an injury rate of 15.6 percent, and 19 injuries occurred in the pitcher/other group spread among seven other positions, resulting in an injury rate of 5.4 percent.

The proportion of pitchers who developed a throwing-related shoulder or elbow injury during the three-year study period was 2.9 times greater in pitchers who also served as catchers versus those who did not.

The results of this study support previous research:

  1. Playing catcher when not pitching is a risk factor for severe shoulder and/or elbow injuries requiring surgery.
  2. Pitch Smart (an initiative of USA Baseball and Major League Baseball) recommends not playing catcher as a secondary position.
  3. Little League baseball prevents pitchers who throw more than 41 pitches in a game from entering as catchers.

“Players and adults monitoring their play should use the results of our study and previous research and work with athletic trainers to determine the injury prevention techniques to keep athletes in the game,” Hibberd said.

Adds Donohue: “Parents have to be proactive for their young athletes.”

Pitching Study Baseball New York Yankees National Athletic Trainers' Association Parents

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