Baseball is one of America’s most favorite sports. If you’re one of the many Americans involved in this sport, you’re probably looking forward to the season openers. And you’ll likely be hitting the fields for pre-season workouts prior to that. Some people take the entire winter off from sports and activities. However, they find it challenging when they jump back into baseball after being stagnant for so long. In fact, there is a strong chance you’ll endure an injury or two by diving right into the baseball season after taking the winter months off. So, getting in exercise off-season is always a great idea.
Some baseball positions are more prone to injuries than others are. Baseball pitchers are especially apt to injure themselves due to the repetitious motion of pitching. However, there are ways to help prevent, treat, and prepare for these injuries.
What can baseball players do while waiting for the season to begin to lessen their chances of suffering an injury during the season? Let’s take a look at what type of injuries are common for baseball pitchers and what proactive steps they can take to prevent them.
Common Injuries of Baseball Pitchers
People who participate in sports, of any type, are more liable to suffer an injury. In fact, according to John Hopkins University children and youth suffer approximately 3.5 million sports-related injuries a year. About 30 million young people participate in sports activities a year. Of these injuries, 110,000 were baseball injuries. When you add the amount of adults who are injured playing baseball, the number goes up.
The position of the baseball player also affects where the injury occurs. Pitchers tend to have more upper body injuries since they are using their arms much more than other parts of their body. These three injuries are most common for baseball pitchers:
Rotator Cuff Injuries
Your upper-arm bone is called the humerus. At the top of the humerus is a round-shaped bone that is surrounded by tendons and muscles that help connect your upper-arm to your shoulder. The ball-shaped bone at the top of your arm and shoulder is able to swivel around thus allowing you to reach over your head and rotate your arm. That’s why it’s called the rotator cuff. The main parts of the rotator cuff (and the parts that connect the humerus to the shoulder socket) are:
It’s easy to see why baseball pitchers would injure this part of their body more readily than other parts. The very nature of pitching a baseball works these muscles, tendons, and bones. The continual motion and repetition wear away at the tendons over time. Just like any muscle that is constantly being overused, it is subject to wearing and tearing. When it gets to the point where the rotator cuff tears, then it causes significant pain and injury. Often times solid shoulder support will ease the symptoms. Other times, if the problem is severe, surgery is the solution.
Ulnar Collateral Ligament Injuries of the Elbow
The job of the ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) is to connect the upper-arm bone, the humerus, to a bone in the lower arm, the ulna. The UCL consists of strong, yet flexible ligaments. This allows you to move your elbow around while at the same time providing support for your arm’s connection.
The ligaments are divided in three sections called the anterior, posterior, and transverse bands. Similar to rotator cuff injuries, UCL injuries often occur from overuse, as well. The ligaments may become torn causing pain on the inside of the elbow area. Some baseball pitchers may experience a traumatic UCL injury. This happens if the UCL is suddenly pulled away from the humerus or breaks. The person would hear a pop sound accompanied by intense pain. For normal UCL injuries, an elbow stabilizerwill provide much-needed relief.
Medial epicondylitis, often referred to as thrower’s elbow affects tendons on the inside of the elbow. Symptoms may begin with mild pain on the inside of the elbow and progress to elbow stiffness and wrist weakness. Some baseball pitchers with this condition have even had numbness and tingling in their finger. This condition affects the tendons in the forearm muscle. The tendons become inflamed and irritated from overuse and can cause referred pain to the hand, arm, and wrist making it difficult to throw the baseball.
How Can I Prevent Baseball Injuries?
Although you may not be able to eliminate all baseball injuries all the time, you can be proactive in reducing some of injuries. Strengthening and conditioning exercises during the off-season is an essential part of building up your muscles and stamina. Baseball pitchers can prepare during the winter months and spring training with these pre-season exercises:
Conditioning the Arms
The arms are the main parts of the body that pitchers use during games. Strengthening and conditioning them prior to the season is essential to help prevent injuries. Dr. David Szymanski, a member of the National Strength and Conditioning Association, recommends a strengthening regimen that many pitchers do. It’s called the Thrower’s Ten Program. This program not only strengthens the arms in preparation for baseball season, but it promotes the balance and coordination in the arms too.
While you don’t want to overdo it with bench pressing heavy weights, you do want to keep your arms in shape and build some strength. While holding a kettlebell or dumbbell, you can do a variety of exercises to prepare for the season.
Hip and Leg Exercises
We usually just think about a baseball pitcher using his arms to pitch, but there is a lot of action going on with the hips as well. After he winds up for pitch, he stretches forward while releasing the ball. This long stretch works the hip muscles, which may be tight if they’re not exercised pre-season. To limber up the muscles in the hips, you can do dumbbell sumo squats, lateral lunges, and side plank with knee drive.
Aside from lifting weights and doing exercises, you need to ensure the parts of your body that you use regularly during the season have the support they need. You can give your elbow superior support so you don’t put added strain on it. The knees benefit from a compression style support because of the constant turning and twisting pitchers do. If you are already struggling with a rotator cuff injury or you have weakness in the shoulder, then using a shoulder support will provide the relief you need.
Recovery Plan for Baseball Pitchers After the Game
Once the season gets started, you’ll want to follow a general routine after the game. Following this recovery plan after the game will ensure that injuries are minimized and you retain good form. These after game steps include:
Cooling down means you get your blood circulating to all the muscles in your body. You do this by jogging in place or running around a little bit.
After the blood flow is moving freely throughout your body, you’re now ready for stretching. Stretching is important so that your muscles don’t get tight. You need to stretch your main body muscles, holding for 15 seconds. Never push a stretch to the point that it hurts though.
Check for Injuries/Pain
During the cool down and stretching, pay attention to your body. If you feel any pain, take steps to begin treating the problem.
Use Ice When Needed
Keep bags of ice or ice packs in a cooler. After a game, if you feel sore or think you may have strained a muscle, place ice packs on the affected area. In fact, many pitchers put ice on their shoulders whether they feel they need it or not. If you do have an injury the ice will be an essential part of the treatment.
No more throwing for the day
Once you leave the field for the day, take the day off from pitching. Don’t play any games that involve throwing over your head in that motion. Your muscles need to repair for the next time you’ll play.
Do Your Thrower’s Ten Program Exercises the Following Day
The Thrower’s Ten Program is designed for pre-season warm-up exercises as well as for a post-game stretching routine.
As the winter days lag on, take advantage of this time to strengthen your muscles and tone your body. When pre-season training arrives, you’ll already be primed and ready to hit the field. Before you begin your routine, make sure to protect your body with the supportive aids you need. At Mueller Sports Medicine, we specialize in a wide variety of supports and stabilizers for baseball pitchers.