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Sports Surgeon Warns Against Year-Round Baseball for Youth-Athletes

Dr. James Andrews, one of the most renowned orthopedic sports surgeons in the country, suggested in an interview yesterday that year-round baseball is the No. 1 cause for the rise in baseball pitchers of all ages undergoing Tommy John surgery.

On MLB Network Radio's "Power Alley," Andrews was asked whether the vast number of Tommy John surgeries and UCL injuries already suffered by major league pitchers this year was "anomalous" or "a trend." The doctor believes it's the latter, and pointed at year-round baseball for youths as the leading culprit.

"It used to be that we didn't see these [UCL] injuries until they got into high-level professional baseball," Andrews said. "But now, the majority of the injuries are either freshmen in college or some young kid even in the 9th, 10th, 11th, 12th grade in high school.

"So, these young kids are now maturing their bodies so quickly, their ligament is developmental, and it's not strong enough to keep up with their bodies. So, they're tearing it in the high-velocity throwers at a young age. And that's really the big problem."

Back in 2008, Andrews told the Houston Chronicle that he had seen a seven-fold increase in the number of youth pitchers requiring Tommy John surgery in the past decade. From 1996-99, he performed such surgery on 164 pitchers, 19 of whom where high school aged or younger. From 2004-07, he performed the same surgery on 588 pitchers, 146 of whom were high school aged or younger.

Andrews told the hosts that year-round baseball is the "big risk factor" in terms of UCL injuries, as "these kids are not just throwing year-round, they're competing year-round, and they don't have any time for recovery." He also cited "playing in more than one league at the same time where rules don't count [i.e., pitchers aren't placed on pitch counts or inning limits]" as a major concern.

According to Andrews' lab, the "red line" for Tommy John's ligament in high school is 80 to 85 miles per hour. "The ones that throw beyond that are going beyond the development properties of their normal ligament, and they're getting hurt," he said. Thus, the doctor expressed his concern about radar guns, as young pitchers are attempting to impress college and professional scouts by throwing 90-plus miles per hour and exceeding the natural threshold of their arms.

Even if a youth pitcher emerges from high school relatively unscathed, Andrews told the hosts that overuse at a young age could set them up down the road for a more serious complication.

"You can usually go back and see a minor injury when they were a young kid throwing youth baseball that was not recognized, and yet it set them up for a major injury down the road," the doctor said. "If we could keep these kids clean through high school, then we're gonna see a lot less number of them getting hurt as they become mature college players and professional players."

Here's the full interview:

To learn more about Tommy John surgery, check out this package of stories from Bleacher Report's sports-injury expert, Will Carroll, from last summer. Most players tend to recover from the surgery with no long-term adverse effects, but it can take up to a year to get back onto the mound. The surgery got its name from former MLB pitcher Tommy John, who underwent the first procedure back in 1974, per CNN.com.

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