Is it safe for a young athlete to throw a curveball? The answer to this question has been a topic of debate in baseball circles for many years. Historically, it was common place to instruct coaches and parents to refrain from having a child throw curveballs until they were approximately 15 years old, when most young athletes were considered to be “skeletally mature.”
The reason for assigning a specific age was due to the belief that throwing curveballs puts more stress on the arm – particularly the elbow – than other types of pitches. However, recent studies show that curveballs actually require the same amount of force as a fastball. So does this mean throwing a curveball is safe for a young athlete? Current research delivers a resounding – and inconclusive – “maybe.”
Although recent studies support the finding that the force required when throwing a curveball is comparable to the force required when throwing a fastball, still unanswered is the question about the effects of forearm position between the two pitches due to the muscles that must be used for each pitch in order to stabilize the elbow. While it is yet to be determined whether this particular motion has a connection to injury, the latest thinking holds that the curveball is not considered as dangerous as it once was for the development of young athletes.
As a physical therapist and youth baseball pitching coach, it is my personal belief that young athletes should continue to err on the side of caution when it comes to curveballs until more conclusive study findings are unearthed.
A youth baseball player should not have free reign to throw curveballs due to the fact that mechanics are still being developed at this young and impressionable age. Altered mechanics secondary to throwing a pitch incorrectly still increases the potential of injury.
My recommendation is to refrain from throwing curveballs until the athlete is thought to be physically mature and demonstrates consistent and sound pitching mechanics. If a second pitch is desired before that occurs, I recommend teaching the player a change-up pitch. These same studies demonstrate that the change-up puts the least amount of stress on the throwing arm when compared to other pitches.
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