Q and A: Bulls, White Sox physician Anthony A. Romeo

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This interview is a follow up to a Pioneer Press feature on theAccelerated Rehabilitation Centers clinic in Evanston that is working to reduce arm injuries related to poor mechanics and overuse. Read that story here.

Dr. Anthony A. Romeo is the co-team physician for the Chicago White Sox and Chicago Bulls. He specializes in the management and surgical treatment of shoulder and elbow problems, serving as the head of Shoulder and Elbow Surgery in the Division of Sports Medicine at Rush University Medical Center.

Freelance reporter Jon Kerr spoke with Romeo recently. The following is an edited transcript of their conversation.

JON KERR: What is the most common mistake young pitchers make?

DR. ANTHONY A. ROMEO: “We still believe the most common mistake is too many throws. Kids aren’t keeping track of how much they are throwing. There is good data that shows if they throw too many, their shoulder gets tired, and when it gets tired, injuries occur more frequently. First is the elbow, then the shoulder.”

KERR: How does fatigue lead to injuries?

ROMEO: “Throwing a baseball is a very complex mechanism. It stems from the foot plant, through the hips and core muscles and shoulder. Pitchers are holding on to a ball very tightly and trying to direct it into a very specific area. When they get tired, they forget to use their lower body mechanics and their core to drive energy to their arm and put the ball in the right spot.”

KERR: Is there a baseline age you recommend for kids to start pitching?

ROMEO: “It’s perfectly fine for young kids to throw the ball and participate in sports. There’s no restrictions on age with which they can start; they should show a passion to participate. Much of our research has shown to stay away from throwing curveballs or sliders at 12, 13 or even 14 years of age.”

KERR: You performed surgery on Jake Peavy when he was with the White Sox in 2010 and on John Danks in 2012. Both are still pitching in the major leagues. What are lessons young people can take from their comebacks?

ROMEO: “The critical issue here is an understanding for coaches and parents who are guiding children. Pitchers in MLB were very well-coached and guided through their growing years to avoid injuries. The Jake Peavys of the world didn’t start [throwing curveballs] when he was 10 years old. They started breaking pitches later and coaches were watching pitch counts. If you are a major league pitcher and you tear your elbow ligament, you have a four-out-of-five chance of returning. That’s an excellent result. But these numbers are worse at the high school or college level. One setback and the likelihood of going to the next level decreases dramatically.”

KERR:What’s one piece of parting advice to give to parents of young baseball players?

ROMEO:“Parents have a very important role with their children. They should encourage them as best as possible but understand that injuries are a part of any sport and you can’t avoid them. If there is a decision to go through surgery, they have to have the right surgery and the right rehab set up. A huge component is back on the athletes themselves. There is a psychological component. To get back to the same level requires heart and soul. You have to have the desire and competitiveness and determination to work through soreness and pain. You have to push yourself through that before you can finally say, ‘I’m back to where I was.’”

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