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Genetics may determine your athlete's pro future

It takes a special athlete to play professional sports. That's why they get paid the big bucks. It's also why every year thousands of young men and women pour their blood, sweat and tears into their game. There's a lot of practice and play that goes into becoming a professional pitcher. But they also need to be born with something special.

As an orthopaedic specialist and founder of Sports & Orthopaedic Specialists in the Twin Cities, I've worked on the elbows and shoulders of the best athletes in the region. Professional and collegiate players from the Minnesota Twins, University of Minnesota and Olympic figure skaters have all walked through my door.

These athletes are blessed with drive, determination—and unusual genetics. It turns out that people who can throw well tend to have different anatomy in the ligaments in their shoulder—anatomy that allows their arm to flex all the way back.

Anatomy of a pro

Do you ever watch a major league baseball pitcher throw? Their range of motion is amazing and can appear downright puzzling. If you watch pitchers throwing in slow motion, their arm seems to wind up into some position it shouldn't be able to reach. It's a genetic abnormality that gives elite pitchers a high performance arm. The athlete who has the right anatomy can throw 80 or 90 miles an hour. That doesn't guarantee he can throw the ball in the strike zone, but it gets him the speed.

If the genetics aren't there, your young athlete could spend too many hours trying to develop the velocity he or she may never achieve—leading to injuries from overuse.

What this means for amateurs

Your athlete can't use practice alone as a ticket into the big leagues, but he or she can do things to make their game better and reduce their risk of injury:

  • It's important for athletes who use any repeated throwing or overhead motion to work on balance and slowly ramp up their play without over doing it.
  • If your young athlete is going to practice and play like they're in the pros, call in qualified sports medicine specialists to work with them.
  • Work with an athletic trainer in order to spot problems early, like a drooping shoulder or a shoulder that rolls forward. Athletic trainers can help athletes with preventative measures like physical therapy to get back strength and form.

Support your athlete on and off the field with realistic expectations, encouragement and the right qualified experts to prevent injury.

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