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AMERICAN MORNING

Paging Dr. Gupta: Pitching Pain

Aired August 22, 2003 - 07:41   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Every year at this time, the world comes to Williamsport, Pennsylvania, for the Little League World Series. The young pitchers in these games look more and more like their big league idols, and that is not necessarily a good thing.
Dr. Sanjay Gupta is at the CNN Center to tell us about the dangers of kids trying to pitch like the pros.

Hey, Sanjay. Good morning.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Soledad.

Yes, the Saugus Massachusetts American team is one game away from playing in the Little League World Series. Millions are watching. And, as you say, these kids are looking more and more like pros, but they're also getting more and more professional-level injuries.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GUPTA (voice-over): Joe Jennings has been playing baseball since he was 5. He started pitching at 12. The pain came just four years later.

JOE JENNINGS, 18-YEAR-OLD PITCHER: It was very bad. It hurt to move it. I couldn't move it in certain directions and it was very painful.

GUPTA: A torn ligament in his elbow.

JENNINGS: It just started hurting every time I would throw with any velocity.

GUPTA: Joe went to see Dr. James Andrews, an orthopedic surgeon to the pros.

JENNINGS: What he did was take the ligament from here and put it around there to make that ligament tighter, and then just stitched it back up. And I have a couple of stitches here, and then that's a scar from where he opened it up.

GUPTA: Dr. Andrews is convinced many ligament problems begin at a young age. In many cases, pitchers in youth leagues play in too many games and throw too many pitches.

JAMES WACHENDORF, 18-YEAR-OLD PITCHER: After the high school season, we played American legion team. Right after that -- then right after goes, I played in a fall league team for this perfect game that's in this league, and then I played indoor league after that. And then, I started up legion again in the spring. So, it's all year- round.

GUPTA: But now, this 18-year-old left-hander faces a year of rehab after his operation.

For others, the problem is the curve ball.

DR. JAMES ANDREWS, AMERICAN SPORTS MEDICINE INSTITUTE: You probably shouldn't throw a curve ball until you shave.

GUPTA: That's because the growth plates in the arm of a child under 14 haven't yet fused together. Throwing a curve ball requires the arm to twist unnaturally, and bones or tendons can be damaged, sometimes permanently, but sometimes you don't find out until later.

ANDREWS: A lot of these injuries don't show up in the youth league, and they may not show up until three or four years later -- a senior in high school, for example. But if you look back, that injury started at the youth level. And so, the coaches are unaware of it.

GUPTA: Dr. Andrews says parents can be another problem. Hoping for a call from the Major Leagues, they allow their kids to play too many games.

James' dad admits he did.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, as a parent, you love to see your kid play. You don't want to ever turn down teams that come along wanting your kid to throw for them.

ANDREWS: They need to decide: Does he want to be a superstar when he's in the youth leagues, or doe he want to be a superstar in professional baseball?

GUPTA: He says the arm has only so many pitches in it, something parents, coaches and young players need to realize.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

Two big culprits then, Soledad: playing a lot of baseball at an especially young age and throwing that curve ball. In fact, just last night, there was a game going on, and this is Little League baseball now that we're going to be looking at here. These are kids that are younger than 13-years-old throwing curve balls, certifiable curve balls.

Again, the big problem being the arm is still developing. The growth plates in the arm haven't fully developed. You can seriously damage, maybe even permanently damage that. The recovery rate from some of these operations less so for teenagers than they are for adults. So, big problems there -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: All right, Sanjay, thanks. It's terrible to see those teenagers with, you know, massive stitches up and down their arms from ligament surgery. It's hard to look at.

GUPTA: That's right.

O'BRIEN: All right, Sanjay, thank you for that.

GUPTA: Thank you.

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