Baseball and softball season are underway, and many athletes are now repeatedly stressing their arms, likely without regard to the condition of their shoulder. I know I used to just get out there and start throwing once it was “baseball season” again. The problem is that there are many things that should be considered when resuming any overhead activity after a period of inactivity. For example:
1) If the athlete has pain
2) If their range of motion is limited
3) If strength/endurance are inadequate.
First, if the athlete is currently having shoulder pain, please get it looked at. If not, I have some basic things to help prepare and condition anyone’s upper extremity for the demands of repetitive overhead use. This post will focus on stretching – sounds simple enough, but it is often overlooked. The primary mistakes I see are inadequate warm-up and not holding stretches long enough.
Proper warm-up and stretch quality cannot be overemphasized. If you are either stressing cold tissues, or not moving throughout an appropriate range your shoulder complex (and possibly neck or back) will pay for it negatively. In order to effectively “loosen up,” it is a good idea to get your entire cardiovascular system going: Jumping jacks, light jogging, high skips, or grapevines, for example. Next, move to arm circles with both forward/backward as well as small/large circles. All of this will stimulate
blood flow to the muscles and allow them to contract & relax more quickly, thus reducing the risk of injury.
Now, the body is ready to be stretched. Stretching the entire shoulder complex is important and often overlooked, specifically the posterior capsule. The pictures demonstrate how to properly stretch the shoulder complex:
Hold all stretches ~30 seconds and repeat. Without the freedom to move through the necessary range of motion, stresses from this muscular imbalance can occur and result in an injury. Once warmed-up and stretched, now you can begin light tossing at close range. Progress to throwing harder and increasing your distance as your shoulder gets “loose”. Again, it sounds simple but this is often the first area breakdown can occur.
Next post I will go into a greater depth of the overhead athlete and the complexity of shoulder mechanics (don’t worry, I’ll keep it basic enough…believe me, the amount of information out there can be very overwhelming). I will be discussing shoulder stabilizing and strengthening exercises that address the primary muscles involved in throwing, thus the ones most often damaged and overused. There is a ton of great content about the entire shoulder complex, and I am anxious to share it with you. I’ll keep you posted!
Updated Reference with photos from: Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy, 2013, Volume: 43 Issue: 12 Pages: 891-894