Common Causes of Pitching Arm Injuries
The most common causes of pitching arm injuries to high school, college and professional pitchers are overload, overuse, lack of proper conditioning, and improper throwing mechanics.
Overload is the result of throwing too many pitches during one outing. Maximum pitch counts for various age groups, or for an individual pitcher's normal strength and stamina, are effective in preventing overload.
Overuse is the result of pitching too often and not having an adequate recovery time or a good arm maintenance program (stretching, running, strengthening, throwing) between pitching assignments. Coaches and trainers should be aware that each individual pitcher varies in arm strength, arm fatigue, arm tightness and soreness and require different recovery time needs. Make certain you provide your pitcher with a good active recovery program between pitching assignments.
Proper conditioning involves the entire body; the legs and core muscles as well as the throwing arm. Coaches should supervise a proper stretching and warm-up procedure that is performed daily before throwing a ball.
Pre-season is one of the most frequent times for arm injuries. Pitchers throw too much and too hard, too early. Also, they have not ingrained their normal rhythm and often are attempting to learn new techniques or new pitches.
Another major factor of injury during pre-season is that pitchers are not working with a normal in-season rotation schedule and do not get enough recovery time from a lot of necessary drill work that involves throwing (pick-offs, defensive plays, etc.).
Improper throwing mechanics. If a pitcher has improper throwing techniques, with the body or arm, there is a great chance of early fatigue of the throwing mechanism, and of course injury. The more power and force generated, the greater the chance of injury.
In a competitive situation, most pitchers will not admit they are fatigued, experiencing minor pain or have a minor injury. It is important that you, a coach, trainer or physical therapist be able to recognize changes in the pitcher's mechanics, performance, or mannerisms.
Besides the loss of control (command of his pitches), and some loss of velocity, a pitcher will often change his throwing motion to compensate for the loss of arm strength and hand speed, or he will change to protect his arm from further stress and pain. Be alert for:
In addition to changes in a pitcher's mechanics, there are often some noticeable physical signs, which indicate muscle, tendon, or ligament strain around the shoulder, elbow, forearm or wrist.
When a coach or trainer observes some of these signs, stop the pitcher from throwing, apply ice to the injured area, and allow him more recovery time from drill work, throwing and a pitching assignment. Have the pitcher do a lot of running and cardiovascular work, but limit his throwing.
If there is little improvement (recovery) after rest within his normal recovery time frame, the player should be seen by a physician to learn the extent of the injury. The pitcher may have to be closed down and go through a throwing rehab program before pitching competitively again.
I believe the best way to develop arm strength, arm stamina, and pitch velocity while avoiding arm injury is to throw a baseball, throw often over a long period of time, and throw bio-mechanically correct. Long term, consistently successful pitchers develop a repeatable, rhythmic and efficient motion.
Bill Thurston has been at Amherst College in Massachusetts for 42 years and has won nearly 65% of all games played (771-441). Since 1990, Thurston has served as the pitching consultant for the American Sports Medicine Institute in Birmingham, Alabama. Bill has conducted baseball clinics in over 25 states and five provinces of Canada and was inducted into the American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 1997. He was a standout player at the University of Michigan and later served as the NCAA Baseball Rules Editor for 14 years. He is a nationally known clinic speaker, and many of his instructional materials have been published and videotaped. His DVD, Common Mechanical Pitching Faults, is available at baseballtips.com for only $39.95 and is a must own!