Year Round Baseball – Is it Safe?

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Recently, John Smoltz was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame, making him the first player having undergone Tommy John surgery to be inducted. During his acceptance speech, he spoke about the sharp rise in Tommy John surgeries among our young athletes. He also spoke about how baseball has become a year round sport monopolized by overly competitive institutions taking the fun out of the game.

This month, we would like to not only echo his message, but also support it with guidelines and precautions from the Medical Mailbag. Due to the climate in warm-weather states like Texas, Florida, Arizona, etc. baseball is easily played year round. Leagues and programs organize tournaments, games, and showcases ensuring exposure to colleges and MLB scouts. With the rising cost of college tuition, the temptation for parent and players is irresistible. Pressure for young athletes to perform at a high level starts as early as little league. The obvious consequence and detriment is revealed in the sharp rise in elbow and shoulder surgeries that we are seeing in our youth. Researchers have found that players that play year round sports can be up to 6 percent more likely to undergo surgery on their shoulder. There is also evidence that even if they do not have an injury that requires surgery when they are young, the consequences of playing year round may cause injuries that require surgery in the future. Researchers also reviewed surgeries performed on baseball athletes in two different collegiate conferences, one that is in the south where year round baseball is played, and one that is in the northern part of the country that doesn’t have the climate that allows for year round baseball. In those two conferences they found a total of 58 baseball players underwent Tommy John or elbow surgery. Of the 58 that had surgery,

40 were from the conference that was in the south where year round baseball is played. Only 18 of the athletes were in the conference that winter climates prevent fall and early spring baseball.

There are numerous studies that support the same message. Year round baseball is bad for baseball players’ arms. Furthermore, the adverse effects may not be seen until they are in high school or college. We highly encourage taking at least one third of the year completely off. This means no baseball at all. This will allow for young kids to heal and recover. It will also give them a mental break from an increasingly competitive environment so they can have fun playing baseball again.

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Keith Meister, MD is Director of Texas Metroplex Institute for Sports Medicine and Orthopedics (TMI), Arlington, TX and Head Team Physician, Texas Rangers. For more information and TMI programs, go to http://www.tmisportsmed.com

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