According to new research published by the National Athletic Trainers’ Association (NATA), high school baseball pitchers who also play catcher suffer three times more upper-body injuries than pitchers who play other secondary positions.
The study was published in the NATA’s scientific publication, the Journal of Athletic Training.
The NATA reports that pitchers account for 73 percent of injuries in high school baseball players, approximately 10 percent of which require surgery.
“Clinicians, coaches and parents can use this information to determine secondary positions for pitchers to decrease injury risk,” NATA member and lead author Elizabeth E. Hibberd, PhD, ATC, an assistant professor in the University of Alabama Department of Health Science, says in the study. “Our findings suggest that pitchers should consider not playing catcher as their secondary position in order to allow adequate time for recovery and to decrease their overall throwing load.”
While pitch counts are enforced state to state, and informally on a team-by-team basis, the results of this new study indicate that a 2.9 times greater injury risk may result from cumulative throwing load between both pitching and non-pitching activities. On each play, the pitch and catcher is involved, adding to strain on the arms of each.
Per the NATA report, the objective of the study was to compare the rate of throwing-related upper extremity injuries between high school baseball pitchers who also play catcher as a secondary position (pitcher/catcher) and those who do not play catcher (pitcher/other). Researchers studied 384 male high school baseball pitchers from 51 high school teams over three years. Of those athletes, 352 (97 percent) played a position in addition to pitcher, and 32 (8.3 percent) of them played catcher as their secondary position.
While the researchers reported 24 throwing-related shoulder or elbow injuries among pitchers during the study period, five occurred in the pitcher/catcher group, resulting in an injury rate of 15.6 percent. Meanwhile, 19 injuries occurred in the pitcher/other group spread among seven other positions, resulting in an injury rate of 5.4 percent.
As the study found, the proportion of pitchers who developed a shoulder or elbow injury during the three-year study period was 2.9 times greater in pitchers who also served as catchers versus those who did not.
“Players and adults monitoring their play should use the results of our study and previous research and work with athletic trainers to determine the injury prevention techniques to keep athletes in the game,” Hibberd said in the study.
According to the NATA, Pitch Smart (an initiative of USA Baseball and Major League Baseball) recommends not playing catcher as a secondary position. Also, Little League baseball prevents pitchers who throw more than 41 pitches in a game from entering as catchers.