More kids are playing baseball at a younger age these days, leading to a rise in injuries that one local doctor called an epidemic.
Injuries have always been a risk of playing sports, but in this case, medical professionals are not talking about the bumps and bruises that come with playing the game.
The repetitive motion of baseball, specifically pitching, can cause a variety of shoulder and arm problems in kids who are still growing.
Some of those injuries can end up keeping them on the sidelines for a long time.
Noah Frantz played baseball every summer, starting when he was just he was 3 years old.
He loved the game. He loved pitching and got serious about the sport when he was 8.
“Some kids get burnt out. Their parents pushed them too hard. But with me, I always wanted to play,” Franz said.
By the time he was in high school, Franz played on four teams, year round, six days a week.
In one game, he threw 123 pitches, and over a five day stretch, he threw more than 230.
Those are all well above the recommended guidelines.
“I knew I could get hurt. I hurt my elbow when I was in eigth grade. I knew that was a possibility, but sometimes, you don’t care. You want to be out on the field,” Franz said.
Franz didn’t tell his coaches how much he was pitching on other teams.
He also never told them when he was in pain until his shoulder started to hurt in the fall of his junior year of high school.
“It was pain that sat there for two or three weeks. Usually, you can play through it, and it goes away in a week or a couple of days. This just lingered and lingered,” Franz said.
Franz’s doctor, Norton orthopedic surgeon Ryan Krupp, diagnosed him with a torn labrum caused by overuse.
“As long as you have sports, you’re going to have injuries. Unfortunately, we’re seeing an uptick in the number of injuries we’re seeing in over head athletes. Part of it is overuse. We’re asking athletes at a younger age to subspecialize and play year-round. Major league athletes have an off-season, and we’re asking youngsters to play 12 months a year. I think a lot of those variables are causing an increase in these types of injuries,” Krupp said.
Krupp specializes in sports medicine, particularly in shoulder and elbow problems.
He called the number of kids facing problems like these from baseball an epidemic.
“Basically, if you see the number of injuries, in athletes coming in with complaints of elbow pain, shoulder pain, at an earlier age, I really think that it’s a major problem. Long term, we don’t know what is the outcome, or the impact of that 10, 20 years down the line,” Krupp said.
Krupp said there are several factors in the rise of injuries: not playing other sports; not getting adequate rest; not sticking to pitch counts.
Those are all things Franz learned the hard way.
He had shoulder surgery, followed by 3 1/2 months of rehab.
“(I) definitely don’t have problems. I don’t ache. As long as I watch what I’m doing now, which I should be, I don’t ever hurt,” Franz said.
Noah is now a college sophomore and a reliever for Thomas More College.
He now warns teammates to take injuries seriously.
“There’s pushing yourself to be good, and then there’s pushing yourself to make mistakes, like I did,” he said.
Krupp stresses that baseball is a safe sport if players, parents and coaches follow proper guidelines to prevent injuries.
USA Baseball Medical & Safety Advisory Committee gave recommendations for youth baseball pitchers, parents and coaches on the age-appropriate pitches, how long pitchers should rest between games or practices and per-game pitch count recommendations:
Age appropriate pitches:
Days of rest between practice/games based on pitch count:
Recommended maximum pitch counts: