Jordan Hicks' elbow injury highlights growing problem in younger athletes

Suggestions for preventing future injuries include lower pitch counts and playing multiple sports.

Fred Bodimer
June 26, 2019 - 1:27 am

ST. LOUIS (KMOX) — The type of elbow injury just suffered by St. Louis Cardinals closer Jordan Hicks prompts local sports medicine doctors once again to offer some advice to young athletes.  

Tuesday morning, Hicks undergoes season-ending Tommy John surgery to repair a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow.  

"Over the last few decades, these types of injuries have become more common and that's probably due to a few different factors, " said SLU Care's Dr. Scott Kaar,  chief of Sports Medicine at SSM Health Saint Louis University Hospital. "People  are just playing baseball more year round. They're pitching and playing more in multiple leagues. They're throwing harder. And we are better at detecting these injuries than we were 30 years ago and able to identify them earlier in the process."

Dr. Kaar say the increase in elbow injuries is very concerning to sports medicine doctors and orthopedic surgeons. 

"It's a hot topic that we all talk about," Dr. Kaar tells KMOX. "We'd love to see a decrease in these injuries."

But how to get to that point?  Dr. Kaar says there are many things young athletes and their parents can do.  

"Although it's very tempting to play baseball year-round or multiple leagues at the same time, truthfully it's probably better for a child or an adolescent or a teenager to mix it up and cross train," said Dr. Kaar.  "It actually helps them out a lot to play different sports. Whether it's playing baseball in one season then soccer in the next season, or football or hockey or something else, that does a couple of things.  It gives their body a chance to rest so you're not always overloading the same structure every time.  And it also helps them develop the rest of their core and muscles because each sport uses a different set of muscles and different coordination. So it's healthier for an athlete to play multiple sports."

Related: Cardinals closer Jordan Hicks will miss remainder of season after surgery

Also, watch your pitch count. 

"Be careful about the volume or the number of pitches being thrown," said Dr. Kaar.  "It's really bad to pitch for one league on Monday, a second league on Wednesday, then pitch for the first league again on Friday.   Rest is really important. It's really easy when pitching to overlook the body and not give it a chance to recover and heal in between outings."
And Dr. Kaar says always take the time to stretch properly before throwing. 

"The shoulder tends to get tighter in
pitchers, especially with teenagers, who do a lot of repetitive throwing," Dr. Kaar said. "If someone's shoulder is tight, they don't have the full range of motion for a complete follow through. In that case, the stress is transferred to the elbow. It's very common for someone to come in with an elbow problem -- even if it's not a fully torn UCL -- and we discover that the shoulder is tight and that shoulder tightness either at the very least contributed or was a major player into why the elbow injury occurred. So working on stretching out the shoulder is really important to help avoid shoulder and elbow injuries."

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