CHICAGO, IL, March 28, 2015 – Alarmed by the rising number of young athletes with shoulder and elbow overuse injuries, the Illinois Athletic Trainers Association (IATA) and sports medicine physicians at Midwest Orthopaedics at Rush (MOR) are recommending schools and travel teams implement prevention programs for athletes at risk. MOR physicians, who are team doctors for the Chicago White Sox, Chicago Bulls and Chicago Fire, are working in tandem with the IATA to launch  Shoulders for Life, a public service campaign urging coaches and athletic directors to impose stricter guidelines for shoulder and elbow use with emphasis on prevention tactics.

“I see shocking numbers of middle and high school volleyball, tennis, baseball, softball, and swim team athletes sidelined with shoulder or elbow injuries from overuse,” explains IATA President Mike “Sully” Sullivan MS, ATC. “Because of stiffer competition, athletes are practicing year round while using their arms at faster speeds and with more force than in the past.”

“As recently as five years ago, I was treating athletes with debilitating shoulder and elbow overuse injuries at age 20 or 25,” explains MOR shoulder and elbow surgeon Dr. Anthony Romeo, who performed the surgery on White Sox pitchers John Danks and Jake Peavy. ”Today, I’m seeing athletes in clinic with the same conditions but at a much younger age — sometimes as young as 15.”

Dr. Romeo and a team of colleagues and researchers from Rush University Medical Center are using digital imaging to study the biomechanics of pitching in the MOR mobility lab. This information is being used to help injured and uninjured pitchers adjust appropriately so they perform at an optimum, yet safe level. 

In fact, this team recently presented research about pitchers during American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) conference in Las Vegas.  The white paper presentation documented that a baseball player’s height, throwing speed and pitching on multiple teams increased the likelihood of having a history of shoulder and elbow injuries.

Another study, published in The American Journal of Sports Medicine shows approximately 75% of healthy youth baseball players report at least some baseline arm pain and fatigue

“The pressure to throw faster at younger ages is creating more injuries,” admits Dr. Gregory Nicholson, MOR shoulder and elbow surgeon. “Major league pitchers are now throwing 95 mph; college pitchers are throwing in the low 90’s which means many high school athletes are trying to reach these speeds too.”

Overuse injuries can occur from excessive repetitive motion, improper or poor technique, lack of off-season rest, and little or no cross training. With an increase in competitive events, experts believe young athletes feel the need to play through pain and ignore the warning signs of injury.  Several years ago, Little League International implemented a strict pitch count for young players. However, IATA members and MOR physicians note these safety guidelines only address pitches thrown during games while those thrown during practice are not usually included in those counts. 

“There are some guidelines in place, but more prevention programs need to be implemented for youth sports both in Illinois and nationwide,” says Dr. Brian Cole, MOR sports medicine physician.  That’s why we are working with the IATA to promote the Shoulders for Life campaign.  “It’s not just about keeping our athletes playing sports.  It’s about protecting their shoulders and elbows so they can carry their grandchildren one day.”   

“Young athletes need to remember that participating in sports should be fun and pain-free,” says Dr. Nikhil Verma, MOR sports medicine physician.  “Competing at young ages and not taking breaks in the off-season is truly taking the ‘play’ out of playing sports.”

About the IATA

The mission of the IATA is to improve the quality of healthcare in the State of Illinois through the advancement, promotion, and improvement of the athletic training profession at all levels, and to promote a better working relationship among those interested in athletic training by providing a means for a free exchange of ideas. The IATA currently serves nearly 1800 members in a number of practice settings across the State of Illinois.

About Midwest Orthopaedics at Rush

MOR physicians are established as some of the top experts in shoulder and elbow care in the United States. MOR’s reputation as a leader in specialized orthopedic patient care, education and research is recognized by several national journals. U.S. News & World Report ranks the orthopedic program at Rush University Medical Center the top in Illinois and No. 6 in the nation.