A close friend of mine called during a trip to spring training. “I’m so excited to live baseball for a week in Florida. I even got out my glove today, and threw with my son for an hour. I showed him my old fastball and slider,” he said.
Knowing my friend had not thrown seriously since his high school days 20 years ago, I asked him how his arm felt. “A bit sore,” he said, “but I’m sure it will be fine tomorrow.”
“I’ll see you in my office in a week,” I told him.
Throwing a baseball puts high stresses on the shoulder and requires an explosive and coordinated type of shoulder muscle activation that is not replicated during normal activities of life. Imagine doing a series of wind sprints or running stadium stairs when you are out of shape. The next day you feel soreness in muscles that you may have forgotten you had. So, too, with throwing. The difference is that the shoulder is more susceptible to injury than the knee.
Indeed, my friend developed shoulder pain at night and pain when he lifted his arm above his head. I saw him in my office the next week; he developed inflammation around his rotator cuff or “impingement.” His shoulder will be better in one-two months with strengthening exercises and rest.
“No permanent damage,” I told him, “but next time you need to toss before you throw!” Professional pitchers begin preparing their shoulders for the grueling season two months before spring training. They perform the “Thrower’s 10” exercises to stretch and strengthen the rotator cuff and scapular (shoulder blade) muscles. Initially, they play catch out to 40-50 yards for 10 minutes a day, three times a week. Over time, they stretch out their “long toss” and amp up their throwing to 15 minutes every other day, remaining diligent about their shoulder exercises.
One month before spring training, they increase their throwing to five days a week and begin incorporating light bullpen sessions at sub-maximum effort. During spring training, they begin to throw off the mound. The “Thrower’s 10” exercises are continued through the year.
Most of us don’t have to face Albert Pujols. However, the “Thrower’s 10” shoulder exercises and a progressive throwing program is an important way to avoid my office for anyone who wants to play recreational baseball or softball.
Dr. Andrew D. Pearle is orthopedic surgeon specializing in sports medicine and robotic surgery. Dr. Pearle’s clinical interests include arthroscopic and robotic surgery of the shoulder, knee and ankle. He is a team physician for the New York Mets and coordinates care for the minor league affiliates including the Brooklyn Cyclones. Dr. Pearle is a winner of the Patients’ Choice Award and currently serves as editor-in-chief of the journal “Techniques in Knee Surgery.”
Reposted from a Men’s Health Doctors on Call column.