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A Physical Therapist’s Guide to Avoiding Throwing Injuries this Baseball Season

Originally published in the Williamson Herald

Ryan Meyers, DPT
Ryan Meyers, DPT

Spring is just around the corner, which means America’s favorite pastime will soon be in full swing. Unfortunately, the start of the spring baseball season means that as a physical therapist, I’ll soon be treating a lot of patients for sports-related shoulder and elbow injuries.  

As players of all ages prepare to take the field, it’s important to understand the risk factors that can lead to throwing injuries as well as the steps parents and players can take to avoid them. While one risk factor is enough to lead to problems, having multiple risk factors only compounds a player’s chance of developing an injury. Here are a few risk factors I commonly see.

Overuse

Many teens as well as younger players are playing baseball and softball year-round. They play on multiple teams, in multiple positions and participate in multiple tournaments and showcases. Without enough rest and recovery, this has quickly become the No. 1 cause of injury. Parents, this means being aware of how much your child is playing and throwing. If your child is a pitcher, keep track of pitch counts. And sometimes, you may need to suggest taking a day off.  

Pressure to Play Through Pain

Players want to please their parents, coaches and peers, which means many don’t speak up when they’re hurting. Younger players may not even recognize the difference between muscle soreness and joint pain, so they play through warning signs they should pay attention to. (Hint: If you can point to the pain with only one finger, that’s a red flag that you should pay attention.)  

Improper Mechanics, Throwing and Conditioning

Every player at every level needs to understand the importance of a proper warmup. Static and dynamic stretching exercise for the whole body are key to overall arm health, while developing strength and mobility help to build well-rounded athletes. Throwers need to be both strong and flexible, which is hard to program on your own. In addition, finding a coach who understands the ins and outs of throwing mechanics can be tough. Many players, coached by well-meaning dads and community members, fail to learn correct throwing mechanics and carry these habits with them for years. Bad mechanics will eventually catch up to you and lead to injury.  

Increased Demand During Growth Spurt

During a growth spurt, a young player may experience decreased core strength, poor posture and joint weakness. Increased demand on the arm at this stage can be harmful. Unfortunately, this transition occurs for many players at the same time they are advancing from youth baseball or softball programs to playing on larger fields. It’s the perfect storm for injury! 

Lifting Weights Too Early

Thanks to the steroid era of baseball, we know that stronger athletes throw and hit harder — and are more successful players. This mentality has unfortunately trickled down to all levels of play. I often see high school players who are lifting weights and getting stronger but experiencing decreased shoulder flexibility. Throwing with decreased flexibility can lead to joint inflammation.  

Too Many Coaches, Not Enough Communication

Some players work with multiple coaches, from school and travel teams to strength and conditioning coaches and private lessons. While l applaud the initiative, all too often this can lead to overuse injuries. The coaches may not be on the same page, and making sure they’re all in communication and collaborating is close to impossible. While it may seem like a good idea, having multiple coaches can be potentially dangerous.  

Specialization of Sport

All too often, players specialize in a particular sport too early in their development. When youth take part in multiple sports, they get the opportunity to work different muscles and areas of the body while improving coordination, proprioception and strength. Completing the same set of movements over and over often leads to overuse injuries, but when youth take part in a variety of sports, that risk decreases.  

If a baseball player is experiencing pain or discomfort, they may benefit from physical therapy, which may include addressing range of motion, flexibility, throwing mechanics and more. A physical therapist can not only help you return to pain free athletics, but also identify other areas that may help athletic performance and prevent future injury. Through an evaluation, we can help players gain a deeper understanding of their strengths and weaknesses, as well as exercises and drills to help them be ready for the physical demands of the baseball season.

With locations in Brentwood, Franklin, Nolensville and Thompson’s Station, Bone and Joint Institute offers state-of-the-art technology and a superior patient experience close to home. For more information, visit www.BoneandJointTN.org

Ryan Meyers is a physical therapist at the Bone and Joint Institute of Tennessee. A Brentwood native, he holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Tennessee and a Doctor of Physical Therapy from Belmont University. A college baseball player, Meyers was drafted by the Toronto Blue Jays in the 12th round of the 1996 MLB draft and played professionally until his retirement from the sport. In his spare time, he enjoys coaching, working out and spending time with his wife and daughters.