Spring is here, which means the start of baseball season. It also means that many young players and professionals alike will be experiencing shoulder and elbow pain. While these injuries are common in pitchers and cannot be prevented entirely, there are things that one can do to lessen the risk of injury. Dr. Joshua S. Dines, Orthopedic Surgeon, provides tips for pitchers:
1. Be prepared. One of the best ways to prevent injury is to go into the season strong and limber. Rotator cuff strengthening exercises are imperative for throwers because these muscles see a tremendous amount of stress during the throwing motion. Additionally, stretching helps as well. Pitchers should do what is known as the “sleeper stretch” to increase the shoulder’s internal rotation which has been shown to decrease shoulder and elbow injuries.
2. Build up slowly. Particularly in the northeast, where the weather isn’t conducive to throwing year-round, it is important to build one’s arm strength up slowly. Don’t go out and pitch seven innings on your first day of practice. Start with 25 pitches, take days off between pitching sessions and increase the number of pitches per session gradually.
3. Know the USA Baseball guidelines. Little league and high school players should have pitch counts to limit the amount of pitching they do per week. The numbers differ based on age and level of play. The goal of these guidelines is to limit injury so make sure you and/or your coach are adhering to the recommendations.
4. Listen to your coach. Poor mechanics is another common reason for injuries to occur. Make sure you are throwing correctly. While this seems obvious, even minor flaws in the throwing motion can cause increased stresses in the shoulder and elbow and can result in injury.
5. Don’t be a hero. Throwing a baseball is not a natural motion. If you are experiencing pain during the throwing motion or finding it difficult to “get loose” when warming up, these may be signs of injury. Let your coach know. And don’t try to play through it. If the pain persists, see your physician who specializes in musculoskeletal injuries.
Dr. Joshua Dines is an orthopedic surgeon and a member of the Sports Medicine and Shoulder Service at Hospital for Special Surgery. He was the team doctor for the U.S. Davis cup tennis team, and currently serves as an assistant team physician for the New York Mets and a sports medicine orthopedic consultant for the NY Rangers.