Don’t Strike Out: Avoiding an Early Season Shoulder Injury

Wow!  After hitting 80 degrees this week here in Philly, spring fever is in air for sure and across the nation, Americans of all ages have been getting ready for our favorite pastime… play ball!

Let’s face it though—opening day for most of us does not look like this:


It probably looks more like this:


Or maybe even like this:


Regardless of whether you’re a pro-athlete, little league ball player, or weekend warrior, injuries during all types of ballgames are common and more than half of them are likely preventable.

Though traumatic injuries certainly can occur, more routine are overuse type injuries in the arm. Rotator cuff injuries are common and can vary greatly in terms of severity.  The elbow is also a typical site of overuse injuries.

Professional athletes and competitive youth ball players should follow more stringent guidelines for training, but most overuse injuries in recreational players can be prevented by following some simple recommendations.

Keep your parts well oiled.  Water is like oil for the body.  Stay well hydrated. Drinking several glasses of water the night before and in the several hours before practice or a game is as critical as drinking during the game.

Warm Up.  That means getting the blood flowing throughout the whole body, not just flailing one arm around in a circle.  Several minutes of a dynamic warm-up with jogging, jumping jacks and other full body movements before stretching and light throwing are key. “Warm-ups” should occur not just before the game or practice, but also in between innings.

Stretch.  Again, not just your arms. Your arm bones attach to your trunk bones, which attach to your leg bones… you get the point.  It’s all connected and tightness in your legs or trunk can impact your ability to throw with good mechanics and remain injury-free.

Strengthen—but stay away from the bench press.  Strengthening activities are important for throwing, but a hulk-like physique should not be the goal. In fact, if your chest and biceps are too big, it puts undue stress on your shoulder joint, which can lead to injury. Core exercises such as lunges, squats, back, and single leg stance type activities are as important as basic shoulder exercises. Hear LA Dodgers’ head PT/Trainer, Sue Falcone talk about the importance of trunk strengthening and core stability in the prevention of arm injury.

Slowly build up your game.  Set limits on the amount of throwing in the beginning of the season.  Rest between games and practices.  Follow recommended pitch count guidelines such as those established by Little League Baseball.

Pay attention to pain and other signs of injury.  Shoulder pain is not something that you should “work” though.  Complaints of arm fatigue, trouble getting “loose,” or “something off” when throwing are all early warning signs of possible injury. If pain occurs, stop, rest, and ice 3-4 times per day. Resting and treating the sore joint early helps to prevent a more serious injury down the road.  For pain or soreness that does not resolve with a few days of rest, seek the attention of a physical therapist.

Play smart now to make it a great “life-long” season!

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