Evanston clinic takes proactive approach to reduce arm injuries

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One day during the winter, as the Evanston baseball team practiced inside the school’s field house in preparation for the 2014 season, several cameras were set up in a section of the gymnasium.

Most of the Wildkits were engaged in normal running and fielding drills. But for 15 of the team’s pitchers — ranging from freshmen to seniors — the throwing portion of the workout was anything but typical.

A camera crew from Accelerated Rehabilitation Centers in Evanston — brought in by Evanston athletic director Chris Livatino — filmed the Wildkits’ pitchers as part of an innovative program that uses high-speed digital technology in an effort to prevent the occurrence of throwing injuries related to poor mechanics and overuse.

“They looked at each kid on video,” Wildkits coach Frank Consiglio said. “The delivery and arm angle and elbows and shoulders. They were pretty efficient.”

Using cameras that capture images at 500 frames per second, athletes in Accelerated Rehab’s Overhead Throwing Program are filmed from several angles while throwing. Trainers evaluate the video in slow motion from 20 specific points, comparing what they see to accepted normal pitching mechanics.

“We want the arm in proper throwing position when the front foot lands on the ground,” said Dr. Terrance Sgroi, Director of Clinical Sports Medicine and Head of Overhead Throwing Analysis for Accelerated Rehab. “The arm should be bent up, with the forearm pointing up to the sky.”

Sgroi said even tiny details like where a pitcher’s toes are located can make a difference.

“When they step with the front foot, the toes should be slightly pointed inward and should be in line with the back foot,” Sgroi said. “If they step too far across the body, it throws the connective chain off and puts more stress on other structures.”

If minuscule details like that are not corrected, they have the potential to lead to injury. That’s the idea behind Sgroi’s preventative technique. Cameras pick up risk points in a pitcher’s delivery, and Accelerated Rehab’s certified coaches or athletic trainers make recommendations on techniques to improve mechanics.

Baseball facilities in Northbrook, Naperville, Elgin and Algonquin are also using the program. Sgroi said he has worked with professionals as well, including minor league pitchers in the Arizona Diamondbacks, Oakland Athletics and New York Mets organizations.

Age is no factor, as participants in the program range from as old as 28 to as young as 10. The younger, the better, according to Sgroi.

“If we can get them earlier in their career, it’s easier to change [bad habits] as the mind hasn’t accepted it as a normal pattern,” Sgroi said. “We don’t want to see them after they are hurt.”

Consiglio said all of the 15 Evanston pitchers filmed last winter are healthy and having good seasons. But he is quick to point out that while the program has been beneficial, it’s too early to tell what its long-term impact will be.

“If you have a kid who has some pain or issues you can reference that video. It’s good knowledge to have and we are trying to learn from it,” Consiglio said. “But there are a lot of injuries at every level. I don’t know how to correlate the information. We haven’t made any conclusions.”

Tyler Wood started playing baseball when he was 5 years old, but by the summer of 2013, a constant pain had developed in his right shoulder.

“When I’d hitch back my shoulder, there was a pop,” said Wood, now a freshman at Deerfield. “It hurt a lot, but I got used to it. But there was always pain.”

Wood’s parents, Bari and Hal, noticed the hitch when watching his games. When they asked him about it, he said he felt fine.

“Tyler has always been this kid who doesn’t complain. He’ll play as long as anyone will let him,” Bari Wood said.

But the pain got worse.

Tyler Wood continued to play, finishing the summer season for his U-14 team. Finally, when he began struggling to do even a simple pushup — “I’d fall flat on my face,” he said — Bari Wood took him to see physical therapist Kathleen Christell of Accelerated Rehab in Deerfield. Christell recommended Tyler Wood see Dr. Charles Bush-Joseph of Midwest Orthopaedics at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago.

The diagnosis revealed a torn labrum, requiring surgery and four months of rest.

Today, six months removed from his November surgery, Tyler Wood is on Deerfield’s freshman baseball team. He began throwing in March, following a program recommended by Accelerated Rehabilitation Centers. He felt a little discomfort at first, but is now pain-free. He isn’t pitching this spring, instead playing second base and shortstop for the Warriors.

Asked if he would have done anything different when he first felt pain last summer, he provided a reflective and candid answer.

“I would have told my parents and coaches and let them know something was wrong,” Tyler Wood said. “I would have gotten help earlier.”

— Jon Kerr

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