Once upon a time, way back in the 20th century, it was unusual for a sports medicine provider to see a softball pitcher with shoulder problems. At that time, the game was slow pitch, there were no softball clubs and the better athletes played multiple sports.
Now, the following scenario is becoming all too common: a 13-year-old girl is seen during the winter for chronic shoulder pain in her pitching arm. She recently pitched eight games in two days for her club team and plays only softball 10 – 12 months a year. Her parents expect the problem to be cured because “softball will pay for her college education.”
Softball coaches want their pitchers to be healthy and pitch effectively. This requires the ability to manage the workloads and pitching exposures in order to achieve these goals. The following is intended to provide information, based on the latest available research, to help coaches develop the best programs for their athletes. First, some background information based upon this data and the opinions of a nationally recognized sports shoulder expert.
Many feel that experience is a great teacher. With that in mind, following are some recommendations from a longtime softball coach who has won Kentucky state titles in both slow and fast pitch as well as the currently available data.
It is hopeful this will stimulate thoughtful discussion and further research on whether or not it is time to consider instituting pitch counts for softball similar to what has been done in baseball. We suggest that fast-pitch softball in the 21st century is as stressful for a pitcher’s shoulder as baseball. However, the NFHS Sports Medicine Advisory Committee (SMAC) is currently reviewing injury surveillance data and the latest research on this topic. At this time, the SMAC does not believe the available injury data warrant the implementation of pitch or inning limitations for high school softball, but it will continue to review new data as it becomes available.
1. AOSSM Stop Sports Injuries website www.stopsportsinjuries,org.
2. Little league website www.littleleague.org.
3. Lear A. Softball pitching and injury. Current Sports Medicine Reports 2016; 15:336- 341.
4. Robinson TW. Shoulder injuries among high school athletes. Pediatrics 2014; 133:272- 279.
5. Shanley E. Shoulder range of motion, pitch count, and injuries among softball pitchers. International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy 2012; 7:548-557.
6. Yang JS. Fast pitch softball pitchers experience a significant increase in pain and fatigue during a single high school season. Journal of the Hospital for Special Surgery 2016; 12:111- 118.
Phil Hurley, M.D., is chair of the Kentucky Medical Association’s Sports Medicine Advisory Committee, a former member of the NFHS SMAC, and the team physician for Owensboro (Kentucky) High School. Ben Kibler, M.D. is a recently retired orthopaedic surgeon whose career has been dedicated to sports shoulder injuries. He has served on numerous national and international sports committees and has published approximately 180 sports medicine articles on the topic of athletic shoulder conditions. George Randolph coached girls softball at Owensboro (Kentucky) Catholic High School for 23 years and won Kentucky state titles in both slow-pitch and fast-pitch softball.