Spring is fast approaching, which means that America’s favorite pastime will soon be in full swing. Unfortunately, the start of the spring baseball season means that as a physical therapist, I will soon be treating many patients for sports-related shoulder and elbow injuries.
As players of all ages prepare to hit the field, it’s important to understand the risk factors that can lead to throwing injuries and the steps parents and players can take to avoid them. Although a single risk factor is enough to cause problems, having multiple risk factors only increases a player’s chances of developing an injury. Here are some risk factors I see commonly.
Many teenagers and young players play baseball and softball year-round. They play in several teams, in several positions and participate in several tournaments and showcases. Without enough rest and recovery, this quickly became the number one cause of injury. Parents, this means being aware of how much your child plays and throws. If your child is a pitcher, keep track of the number of pitches. And sometimes you may need to suggest taking a day off.
Pressure to play through the pain
Players want to please their parents, coaches and peers, which means many don’t speak up when they’re in pain. Young players may not even recognize the difference between muscle pain and joint pain, so they play through the warning signs they need to pay attention to. (Hint: If you can point to pain with just one finger, that’s a red flag to pay attention to.)
Improper mechanics, throwing and conditioning
Every player at all levels should understand the importance of a good warm-up. Full-body static and dynamic stretching exercises are essential for overall arm health, while strength and mobility development helps build well-rounded athletes. Launchers must be both strong and flexible, which is difficult to program on your own. Also, finding a coach who understands the ins and outs of throwing mechanics can be difficult. Many players, coached by well-meaning fathers and members of the community, fail to learn the correct throwing mechanics and carry those habits with them for years. Poor mechanics will eventually catch up with you and lead to injury.
Increase in demand during a growth spurt
During a growth spurt, a young player may experience decreased abdominal strength, poor posture, and joint weakness. Increased demand on the arm at this stage can be harmful. Unfortunately, this transition occurs for many players at the same time as they transition from youth baseball or softball programs to playing on larger fields. It’s the perfect storm for injuries!
Lifting weights too soon
Thanks to the steroid era of baseball, we know that the strongest athletes throw and hit harder – and are more successful players. This mentality has unfortunately permeated all levels of the game. I often see high school players lifting weights and getting stronger, but experiencing decreased shoulder flexibility. Throwing with reduced flexibility can lead to joint inflammation.
Too many coaches, not enough communication
Some players work with multiple coaches, from school and travel teams to strength and conditioning coaches and private lessons. While I applaud the initiative, too often it can lead to overuse injuries. Coaches may not be on the same page, and ensuring they are all communicating and collaborating is next to impossible. Although it may seem like a good idea, having multiple coaches can be potentially dangerous.
Too often, players specialize in a particular sport too early in their development. When kids play multiple sports, they have the opportunity to work different muscles and areas of the body while improving coordination, proprioception, and strength. Performing the same set of movements over and over often leads to overuse injuries, but when young people play a variety of sports, this risk decreases.
If a baseball player is experiencing pain or discomfort, they may benefit from physical therapy, which may include range of motion, flexibility, pitching mechanics and more. A physical therapist can not only help you return to athletics without pain, but also identify other areas that can help athletic performance and prevent future injuries. Through an assessment, we can help players better understand their strengths and weaknesses, as well as drills and drills to help them be ready for the physical demands of baseball season.
With locations in Brentwood, Franklin, Nolensville, and Thompson’s Station, Bone and Joint Institute delivers cutting-edge technology and a superior patient experience close to home. For more information, visit www.BoneandJointTN.org.
Ryan Meyers is a physical therapist at the Bone and Joint Institute of Tennessee. A native of Brentwood, he holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Tennessee and a doctorate in physical therapy from Belmont University. A college baseball player, Meyers was drafted by the Toronto Blue Jays in the 12th round of the 1996 MLB Draft and played professionally until his retirement from the sport. In his spare time he enjoys coaching, working out and spending time with his wife and daughters.