At what age should my son start throwing a curveball?

Curveball-Youth-BaseballA few weeks ago we blogged about the rise of Tommy John surgery in youth baseball. This week, we are going to address another hot button issue in youth baseball: the Curveball.

Is the Curveball Dangerous for Youth Pitchers?

The jury is still out, unfortunately. There are some experts who feel that youth pitchers should stay away from the curveball until they develop physically, while others do not believe throwing the curveball at a young age is dangerous.

We will present both arguments and let you decide for yourself.

Pro Curveball in Youth Baseball

A study published in the American Journal of Sports Medicine in 2008 concluded that “the curveball may not be more potentially harmful than the fastball for youth pitchers. A 2009 study found that “the moments on the shoulder and elbow were less when throwing a curveball than when throwing a fastball.”

Against the Curveball in Youth Baseball

According to “Risk of Serious Injury for Young Baseball Pitchers : A 10-Year Prospective Study,” by Glenn S. Fleisig and Dr. James R. Andrews, “Sports medicine experts have been warning since the 1970s that throwing curveballs at a young age can lead to elbow injury. The theory is that more stress is exerted about the elbow when throwing a curveball than when throwing a fastball and that the skeletally immature elbow of a youth pitcher cannot withstand the higher stress.”

So every parent wants to know; “At what age should my son start throwing a curveball?

Dr. Lyle Micheli, director of the Division of Sports Medicine at Children’s Hospital Boston, believes the curveball should not be thrown until a pitcher is at least 14. He added that a pitcher shouldn’t attempt to throw a slider until 16.

“Don’t throw curveballs until you can shave,” add Dr. Andrews.

We, like Dr. Micheli and Dr. Andrews, would recommend postponing the development of the curveball until your son develops physically. Of course, you have the final say. If you decide to teach your son to throw a curveball, just be sure to pay close attention. Make sure they stick to the recommended pitch count restrictions in youth baseball. And, most importantly, talk to your child. Make sure he feels okay, physically. If he complains of shoulder or elbow soreness, shut him down and seek medical treatment. The worst thing your son can do is ignore a potential problem. One of the primary reasons for shoulder and elbow injuries amongst youth pitchers is overuse: high pitch counts, pitching too frequently, throwing for multiple teams, pitching in showcases, and pitching while fatigued.

“What was causing arm problems was not the curve ball, but the overuse of the arm,” stated a Little League Baseball commissioned study with USA Baseball and the University of North Carolina.

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