HealthWatch: Pitch Perfect: Saving Athletes’ Arms

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CHICAGO. (Ivanhoe Newswire) — Since 2000, there’s been a five-fold increase in the number of serious shoulder and elbow injuries among youth baseball and softball players. Now doctors have a new way to predict whether an injury is likely to happen.

With every pitch, Matt Schultz is closer to his dream of playing in the big leagues. Schultz told Ivanhoe, “I don’t know what I would do without playing baseball!”

But when Matt was a sophomore in high school, an injury nearly ended his days on the mound. “I was very scared, I thought my baseball career was going to be over” he said.

Matt tore a ligament in his elbow. Anthony Romeo, MD, Orthopedic Surgeon at Midwest Orthopedics at Rush was able to reconstruct it with the popular “Tommy John” surgery.

Dr. Romeo told Ivanhoe, “The incidence of this surgery, the Tommy John’s surgery, has gone up dramatically.”

Now researchers are using a state-of-the art motion analysis lab to try and find out why. They can analyze a pitcher’s mechanics before and after an injury. 

Peter Chalmers, MD, Orthopedic Surgery Resident at Rush University Medical Center told Ivanhoe, “We can say because of the way you pitch it’s more likely you’re going to have this injury, and this is how we can prevent it.”

The data has suggested certain factors like fatigue may be a precursor to poor mechanics and ultimately, an injury. The doctors want to use their results to create guidelines for pitching counts and when players can get back in the game after surgery.

Schultz exclaimed, “Right now, I have no pain at all in my arm.” He’s now playing college ball on a scholarship and is closer than ever to making his passion a career.

Right now, there are no objective guidelines in place to help doctors and athletes decide when it’s ok to go back to pitching after elbow surgery. The “Tommy John” surgery involves taking a tendon from the forearm or hamstring and weaving it through holes in the bone of the elbow, so it works like the injured ligament. The procedure got its name after former Dodgers pitcher Tommy John had it back in 1974.

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