Overhead Athletes– How much is too much when throwing?

The question has been debated heavily for many years and yet there does not seem to be a clear answer.  With rule changes in little league baseball regarding limitations on innings pitched and pitch counts there has been a necessary shift to protect our young athletes.  Ever wonder how a softball pitcher can throw both games of a double header and still be ready the next day versus a baseball pitcher pitching 5 innings and needing 4+ days off to really recover?  The simple answer is that the overhead throwing motion is an unnatural motion for the glenohumeral joint (shoulder), and places extra stress on the muscles, tendons, and ligaments.  Over time, the repetitive stress of an unnatural motion leads to changes in the body most noticeably; increased external rotation of the throwing shoulder.

Another common question that arises when talking about overhead throwing is, how soon should kids start throwing curveballs and off-speed pitches in baseball?  When reviewing the current research on this, there does not seem to be any extra stress from throwing off-speed pitches or just fastballs, “when thrown with proper mechanics”.  Leading experts in the field seem to find that many kids are not receiving proper instruction and are damaging their shoulders, elbows, and low back by using poor biomechanics when throwing off-speed pitches.

You may wonder how some professional pitchers pitch, well into their 40’s, and others have career ending injuries in high school.  The main two reasons for this are:

1. Anatomical variation – While we all have the same major muscle groups differences in those structures and how they work together, vary in every single individual.

2. Biomechanical differences – Having poor throwing mechanics can lead to extra stress on specific tissues making the likelihood of injury much greater.  This can also hold true with muscle imbalances and joint restrictions.

The bottom line with overhead throwing and knowing how much is too much, is taking the proper steps before you begin a throwing program.  The following tips can help prevent injury and extend overhead athletes careers:

1. Receive proper instruction on throwing mechanics before beginning a throwing routine.

2. Get a proper physical examination to have your muscles and joints checked to make sure your body is ready to begin a throwing program.3. Allow adequate rest between throwing cycles so the body can recover.

3. Allow adequate rest between throwing cycles so the body can recover.

4. Have a solid strength program to help balance out the extra stress that throwing places on the body.

5. Listen to your body.

6. Have Fun!!!!

Cory Cooper, DC, ATC

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