Preseason training helps young baseball pitchers avoid shoulder problems

For football and basketball players, the term "getting in shape" means hours of running and/or weight lifting to strengthen the body.

However, for baseball pitchers getting in shape means something completely different.

“Most high school athletes go from football to basketball and then start throwing a baseball at full speed,” said Dr. David Lintner, an orthopedic surgeon with The Methodist Center for Sports Medicine in Houston. “The problem is that their arms are not in baseball shape, and they open themselves up to serious rotator cuff problems.”

The rotator cuff is a group of four muscles and their tendons that connect the shoulder blade to the upper arm bone. Signs of torn rotator cuff could be pain and/or weakness in the shoulder, and difficulty raising your arm over your head. Problems with the rotator cuff can not only damage the rest of the shoulder, but can also lead to elbow and other arm problems that plague many pitchers.

Research has shown that high pitch count and throwing curve balls are two of the biggest factors relating to shoulder pain for young pitchers. The good news is that there are things that can be done before the season begins to try and avoid being sidelined with a torn rotator cuff.

“Pitchers should play catch, not pitch off the mound, for a few minutes every day beginning in December, and gradually increase throwing as it gets closer to the start of spring training,” said Lintner, head team physician for the Houston Astros.

Young pitchers should also take part in a low-weight, high repetition program for a few minutes every day.

“Pitchers need strong, but flexible arms, so they shouldn't use any more than three to five pounds to do these exercises,” Lintner said. “Exercises like bench or military press or curls create bulk, which might look impressive, but is really counterproductive for young throwers.”

Pitchers should also spend time working on their mechanics and strengthening their legs and trunk area (upper thighs, abdomen, buttocks, hips and lower chest). This is the area that generates power for pitchers. Using the whole body, and throwing overhand, not sidearm, not only will put more speed on a fastball, but it will also reduce the wear and tear on the arm and shoulder of young athletes.

“We are seeing more and more high school pitchers with rotator cuff problems,” Lintner said. “Taking the time before the season to train properly will go a long way towards success in the coming year and prolonging the career of a young thrower.”

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