A 2015 survey in the American Journal of Sports Medicine found that 60 percent of all Tommy John surgeries in the US are for patients ages 15 to 19 — startling considering that professional baseball player Tommy John himself was 31 when the surgical-graft procedure was invented to repair his damaged elbow ligament in 1974. In 2010, AOSSM launched the STOP (Sports Trauma and Overuse Prevention) Sports Injuries campaign to combat the worrisome trend.
The injuries are a byproduct of many factors, including hypercompetitive athletes, a growing number of travel teams and tournaments, and overzealous parents pushing their children too much because they believe they have the next LeBron James on their hands.
“There is a huge amount of delusion, I think,” says Kelly of the latter.
But the largest cause is young athletes specializing in one sport at an earlier age. Instead of playing lacrosse, basketball and football, they are opting to stick with just one, and it’s taking a toll on their bodies.