Throwing pains? These tips will help

By Brett Fisher, PT, DPT, SCS, ATC

Warmer weather is right around the corner. That means spring sports are beginning their preseason practices. With the recent trend in indoor facility development, the spring seasons for baseball and softball are able to begin sooner than in past years. This allows for a longer season and for improved preparation for when the weather allows outdoor practices and games.

This changeFischer_Brett_WEB160x200 in season also signifies the transition between off-season training and preseason training. With many sports now increasing to nearly year-round practices or competition, there are some risks that need managing as well. An increase in season length for any sport will bring an increase in the sport specific demands placed on the participating athletes, and this certainly applies to the elbows and shoulders of baseball and softball players. Research has shown a correlation between increased length of competitive season and number of elbow and shoulder injuries related to throwing.  With this in mind, it is critical for baseball and softball players to be adequately physically prepared for the demands placed on their arms.  This includes proper throwing mechanics, but also a good off season strength and conditioning program, proper nutrition, and if necessary, evaluation and treatment of injuries by a sports medicine professional.

As practice begins, many players are dusting off their gloves and awakening their throwing arm from a 2-3 month hiatus from throwing. Care should be taken to gradually increase the throwing load, giving the body adequate time to adapt to the demands of throwing.  Too much volume or intensity of throwing too soon has the potential to cause injuries which may linger throughout the playing season.  For some, if the proper steps are not followed, the initial throwing phase can be troublesome. Soreness in the early part of the season that lingers or progresses throughout the spring and summer months can be difficult to overcome.

With that in mind, here are some tips for avoiding arm trouble in the early part of the season:

  1. Prior to playing catch, complete a 5-10 minute dynamic warm up including general exercises for both upper and lower body.
  2. Listen to your arm. This sounds easy enough, right? If you notice some lingering soreness the next day, go through a longer dynamic warm up. If your arm is still sore, throwing that day could be detrimental.
  3. Focus early throwing on proper mechanics. Poor mechanics can lead to problems in the shoulder or elbow later in the season.

As the season progresses, it can be difficult for athletes to tell the difference between what might be a normal amount of soreness and what may turn into a more serious, debilitating condition. Problems are more likely to occur when overhead athletes continue to throw – even when their arm may be sore or painful – resulting in them being unable to physically throw a ball without pain.

Deciphering when to pursue evaluation by a specialist can be a difficult task for any athlete. Generally speaking, if you are suffering from aches or pains and it limits your ability to complete any physical activity that is part of your daily life or sport, it’s time to pursue an evaluation by a qualified and knowledgeable health care provider. This includes specialized MDs or specialized Physical Therapists, with experience in treating your condition. Some specialized services at the Sanford Fieldhouse include throwing mechanics evaluation with high speed cameras by a Physical Therapist experienced in the treatment of athletes, the Return to Performance program (see featured article), and the POWER program supervised by a strength and conditioning specialist.

With warmer weather right around the corner, we wish you the best of luck in your spring and summer sports!