Big league surgeries for Little Leaguers

Major League Baseball News—August 12, 2008

Young pitchers with big dreams are being sidelined in alarming numbers due to a sharp increase in elbow injuries in recent years. Young players tend to overuse their arms, according to doctors, and do not know to set limits for themselves in play like their older, professional counterparts do.

The consequences have been a tripling in the number of elbow reconstructions — or Tommy John ligament replacement surgeries — among ballplayers 18 years of age and younger in the past decade or so, said Joshua S. Dines, M.D., an orthopedic surgeon and sports medicine physician at Hospital for Special Surgery in New York.

“It used to be pretty rare,” said Dines. “It was kind of reserved for college or professional players, and now we definitely see a lot of high-schoolers that are coming in with ulnar collateral ligament tears.”

According to a study presented in July at the annual gathering of the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine, the number of teenagers who have undergone the Tommy John surgery increased so markedly that some medical authorities are now calling the problem an “epidemic.”

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