Spring is the season for throwing athletes, particularly in baseball and softball. And with throwing season in full bloom, elbow and shoulder pain are guaranteed to come along with it just as predictably as the days starting to get longer.
Rotator cuff tears, torn labrums, Little League elbows and other joint problems are about to be in full bloom across America as a whole new set of unprepared arms break down under the strain of the throwing motion.
Coaches and leagues everywhere have wisely focused on improved mechanics, better warm up techniques, and tighter restrictions on how much throwing can be done as excellent preventative measures for our kids.
But even with all of that, an understabilized and restricted arm is still a major candidate for plysical issues.
Here are 3 simple but powerfully effective ways any throwing athlete can further reduce their risk of shoulder and elbow injury problems through lower-intensity training activities.
Tip #1 – Use A Foam Roller Regularly
Your shoulder is designed to move free and easy throughout a full range of motion. A high volume of throwing will create tightness in the muscles involved which limits your shoulder’s ability to move as freely as it previously did.
Foam rolling is a simple way to loosen up those tight throwing muscles. It is essentially a self-massage mechanism and can dramatically relieve tension in any soft tissue if used regularly. (Our full foam roll article can be found here.)
Working through a routine where the forearms and every muscle around the shoulder are rolled out is recommended, along with any other muscles you have that get tight.
Tip #2 – Stabilize Your Shoulder With Band Resistance Training
If you’ve ever gone to physical therapy you know band reistance is a key piece of the rehabilitation puzzle. And for all the same reasons, its a great tool to use for preventing injuries, as well.
Bands develop end range of motion strength because that is where a stretched band provides the most resistance. This is where many people are weakest and susceptible to breakdowns.
Bands, unlike weights which can only use gravity for vertical loading, can provide horizontal and diagonal loading forces that are much more similar to the strains incurred from a typical throwing motion. Matching the plane of motion in which injuries occur is a typically overlooked aspect of injury prevention training.
And finally, bands can improve flexibility at the same time they add end-range strengthening. This critical two-for-one aspect makes an even more unique and beneficial resistance tool.
Tip #3 – Use A Modest Amount Of Closed-Chain Strength Drills
With a controlled amount of volume, some strength training can still be beneficial to a thrower while in-season.
For exercise selection, make sure you are focused on closed-chain exercises. Closed chain exercises for your upper body are the ones where your hands are in a fixed position.
A pushup is a closed chain drill because your hands stay on the ground, but a bench press is not. There are many more examples of each.
The reason these drills are better for throwers is because they strengthen the critical rotator cuff muscles that connect the shoulder joint to the scapulas. And of course the reason why you have probably heard of the rotator cuff is because you know or heard of someone who tore theirs….likely when throwing or doing some other overhead movement.
A strong and healthy shoulder has the added benefit of reducing strain on the elbow joint, as well. It is the critical link in the chain for pitchers and all other throwers. By taking action to keep them functioning at peak capacity, you’ll drastically reduce your injury risk this spring and summer.