Shoulder Conditioning for Pitchers
Posted 2/29/2016 by UHBlog
This is the time of year when roughly 15 million U.S. adults and children are heading out to play baseball and softball. The people at the center of the action – pitchers – are expected to keep the game moving. So how can they ensure their pitching arm stays strong for the entire season? It starts by taking care of their legs, says sports medicine specialist James Voos, MD.
“With all of our throwing athletes, it starts at the ground,” he says. “By that, I mean you need strong legs for a strong foundation. You generate the force of your throw by pushing off with your legs and core.”
Even softball players need to focus on shoulder injury prevention, Dr. Voos says.
“People think that because softball players use a different throwing motion, they don't need to follow the same shoulder protection protocol,” he says. “But we see similar kinds of injuries in these athletes.”
According to Dr. Voos, two areas of your shoulder – the rotator cuff and labrum – are most susceptible to injuries during the various phases of pitching a ball. However, once you’ve repeatedly stressed and/or overloaded your shoulders, other ailments can occur throughout your entire shoulder area, such as:
- Bicep tendinitis and tendon tears
- Inflammation and pain that radiates down your arm
- Impingements and catching or locking sensations with certain shoulder movements
- Instability that causes the shoulder to move out of its socket
- Other painful issues involving your upper arm bone (humerus), scapula (shoulder blade) and clavicle (collarbone)
“If you’re throwing with poor form or throwing too frequently, rotator cuff tears and other injuries can occur,” Dr. Voos says. “This can limit your baseball or softball career.”
Even parents of ball players are susceptible, especially those who practice with their kids or coach a team.
“I see a lot of moms and dads in the office who have been outside throwing balls to their kids,” he says. “They need to take care of their shoulders, too.”
The best way to prevent injuries is to develop and maintain good pitching fitness, Dr. Voos says. Here’s how:
- Work out those legs – Ball players who are still in middle school or younger may use arm muscles to power their throws, but when your ball player transitions into high school, that’s when leg and core strength is emphasized.
“We recommend following an off-season program to build strength in the legs and core,” he says. “That way, your shoulders have less work to do.”
It’s also important to ease into the season with a progressive throwing program. To avoid ailments like little league shoulder, be sure to follow the Little League Baseball Association's suggested pitch counts by age and recommended rest in between games. For older ball players, be mindful of how much throwing you’re doing and gradually increase your time on the mound.
- Strengthen your shoulders – Your shoulder blade muscles can be strengthened by using light weights, cables and TheraBand resistance bands. Choose exercises that will help with your rotational power, such as low rows and reverse flies.
- Improve shoulder flexibility – Stretch your shoulder capsule region, which includes the ligaments covering your upper arm bones, shoulder joints and shoulder blades. These exercises include wall stretches, stretching the back of your shoulder and hand-up-your-back stretches.
“If you can, you want to work with an instructional pitching coach or a baseball academy,” Dr. Voos says.
If you find yourself in pain, don’t ignore it.
“Shoulder injuries can escalate,” Dr. Voos says. “You should see a sports medicine specialist who can evaluate whether your shoulders are too tight or weak or if your core muscles are weak. We can help you the most if we correct the imbalances early.”
James Voos, MD is an orthopaedic surgeon and sports medicine director at University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center, and is head team physician for the Cleveland Browns. You can request an appointment with Dr. Voos or any other University Hospitals doctor online.