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How Many Pitches Should My Son Throw - An Educated Personal Story - February 2007

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How Many Pitches Should My Son Throw, An Educated Personal Story

By: John O'Halloran MSPT, ATC, CSCS, Cert MDT
Director of Physical Therapy Southeastern Orthopedics
Greensboro, North Carolina

Last spring I got caught up in the hoopla of today’s society and had my 11 year-old son play in 40 baseball games. Despite knowing the evidence that there is no way to predict athletic achievement in high school, college or professional by a child’s preadolescent athletic success, I felt extreme pressure from coaches and friends that if he did not play on these teams he would be left behind and lost in the shuffle.

As a former baseball pitcher who pitched at a high level, I experienced extreme shoulder and elbow pain between the ages of 11-20 years old. I am now a Physical Therapist most likely because I spent a lot of time in therapy during those years. I also spent a few visits in the Pediatrician and Orthopedic’s office as well. I thought my experiences could guide my son through the wacky world of peer pressure, inexperienced coaching techniques and the demands on his immature skeleton.

Well it hit me in the middle of June 2006 while he was pitching in an all-star game; I watched him constantly rubbing his shoulder and wondered if he just might be hurt. That night, as I was driving him home, I started to calculate how many innings and, more importantly, the number of pitches he threw from February 24 until June 23, 2006. I then started to do a little more research on the subject; because, if I had anything to do with it, I was not going to have my son experience what I went through at a young age.

To compound the situation (a week after that coconut dropped out of the sky and hit me in the head to get me to think about the negative stresses that were occurring to my son’s shoulder), I had an encounter with one of his coaches. I had asked the coach not to pitch my son in the next all-star weekend of games because he had thrown too many pitches the week before and his shoulder was sore. The coach responded by saying the number of pitches has been blown out of proportion, and if he had good mechanics (like his own son) he could throw more than he does. I took that very personally, since I have studied the pitching motion for 30 years and specifically taught my son the proper mechanics. I also realized that the level of instruction is the weakest at the age they need it most, youth sports.

Times have definitely changed in youth sports, specifically the sense of urgency to make our kids grow up quicker than their immature skeletons can handle. Parents, league officials and coaches have taken the ‘fun’ out of the fundamentals of sports. Even the experts in Pediatric Sports Medicine have seen an increase in growth plate and bony abnormalities such as chondral defects that were unheard of 10-15 years ago.

So, the question that we need to answer is “how many pitches should my son pitch”? I often answer that based on the information provided by the American Sports Medicine Institute (ASMI). This information was developed after detailed consulting with Orthopedists, Pediatric Sports Medicine Experts and knowledgeable coaches. Listed below are a summary of their recommendations for 8-12 year olds.

RECOMMENDATIONS (USA Baseball Medical Safety Advisory Committee and the American Sports Medicine Institute):
  1. Common sense, if there is pain, rest a few days and that usually will resolve it. If it continues or there is a decrease in performance, consult with a specialist.
  2. Number of pitches is more important than the number of innings (see below).
  3. No curveballs before age 14.
  4. Children between the ages of 8-10 years should only pitch 52 times per game and 11-12 years old should pitch 68 times per game. Both age groups should pitch no more than two (2) games week.
  5. Seek good pitching mechanics coaching and work on developing good balance,trunk and lower extremity strength.

Remember that there will always be that coach or parent saying “when I played I threw everyday and my arm never hurt.” Well times have changed, and kids do not play catch and throw as much as they did 25-30 years ago. We are in the age of specialization, which results in less long tossing or throws from the outfield that can build arm strength and cross train the throwing arm. You have to adapt and change with the times in order to recognize and hopefully prevent this very common problem our young baseball pitchers are experiencing.

John W O’Halloran, MSPT, ATC, CSCS, cert MDT, is a licensed physical therapist and athletic trainer with over 20 years of experience in the field of sports medicine. Currently, Mr. O'Halloran is a director of physical therapy/sports medicine at Southeastern Orthopedics in Greensboro, North Carolina and co- owner of GOSMC Properties, LLC. He has worked in a variety of settings, including the University of Massachusetts at Boston and Malden Hospital, in Malden, Massachusetts. Mr. O'Halloran is also a former orthopedic instructor at the physical therapy assistant program at Guilford Technical Community College in Greensboro, North Carolina. In 1999, he became credentialed with the McKenzie Institute in the mechanical diagnosis and treatment of the spine. Mr. O'Halloran is also a certified functional capacity evaluator in the Blankenship Method. His unique evaluation and treatment skills make him a sought after clinical instructor for physical therapy and athletic training topics. He has spoken both locally and internationally on topics such as sports specific rehabilitation of the shoulder, spine rehabilitation and treatment of foot and ankle injuries.

Mr. O’Halloran speaks regularly for Cross Country Education and will be a featured speaker at the 2007 Rehab Summit in Las Vegas, Nevada. Mr. O’Halloran will be presenting five sessions, including two labs, at the conference! For more information, visit the website at

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Tags: February 2007 Newsletter PT Overuse Injuries Article