Since 2000, there’s been a five-fold increase in the number of serious shoulder and elbow injuries among youth baseball and softball players. Now, doctors have a new way to predict whether an injury is likely to happen.With every pitch, Matt Schultz is closer to his dream of playing in the big leagues.

“I don’t know what I would do without playing baseball,” said Schultz.

But when Schultz was a sophomore in high school, an injury nearly ended his days on the mound.

“I was very scared, I thought my baseball career was going to be over,” he said.

Schultz tore a ligament in his elbow. Anthony Romeo, MD, an orthopedic surgeon at Midwest Orthopedics at Rush was able to reconstruct it with the popular “Tommy John” surgery.

“The incidence of this surgery, the Tommy John’s surgery, has gone up dramatically,” said Romeo.

Now researchers are using a state-of-the art motion analysis lab to try and find out why. They can analyze a pitcher’s mechanics before and after an injury.

“We can say, because of the way you pitch, it’s more likely you’re going to have this injury, and this is how we can prevent it,” said Peter Chalmers, MD, orthopedic surgery resident at Rush University Medical Center.

The data has suggested certain factors like fatigue may be a precursor to poor mechanics and, ultimately, an injury. The doctors want to use their results to create guidelines for pitching counts and when players can get back in the game after surgery.

“Right now, I have no pain at all in my arm,” Schultz said, adding that he’s now playing college ball on a scholarship and is closer than ever to making his passion a career.

Right now, there are no objective guidelines in place to help doctors and athletes decide when it’s OK to go back to pitching after elbow surgery. The “Tommy John” surgery involves taking a tendon from the forearm or hamstring and weaving it through holes in the bone of the elbow, so it works like the injured ligament. The procedure got its name after former Dodgers pitcher Tommy John had it back in 1974.