Spring training has begun, and youth baseball players all over the country are starting to practice and prepare for their upcoming seasons. My very own 14 y/o son has started his 8th grade season, while having been working with his travel team on the weekends since mid December.
As a physical therapist, former player, father, and assistant coach on his 14U team, my first concern is always the health of a player. I see several baseball players in my sports medicine practice ranging in age from 9 year olds to MLB platers. Diagnoses include internal impingement, SLAP tears, little league elbow/shoulder, OCD, UCL sprains, rotator cuff tendinitis, instability, fractures and scapular dyskinesia.
One of the hardest things to do in my profession is get inside the head of a young athlete. Many will refrain from mentioning pain for fear of letting down a parent or coach, or out of concern for losing playing time. Society has become too focused on early specialization and winning from an early age. In addition, “travel baseball” has been somewhat diluted and water down by lots of dads who want their sons to play year-round. I often see kids being abused on terms of too little rest or improper recovery after they pitch and catch.
The biggest, most athletic and hardest throwing kids undergo the most strain as they are asked to shoulder the load at pitcher, catcher and shortstop early on. Many coaches are counting innings in tourneys and not pitches based on tournament guidelines. Too many kids are pitching on consecutive days without proper rest all in an attempt to win meaning less tournaments at a young age. Fortunately, we are making progress in the sports medicine world thanks to the efforts of Dr. James Andrews and others.
High schools are adopting pitch count regulations this year, and MLB along with Dr. Andrews has developed their site, www.pitchsmart.org, to spread education about injury prevention in youth pitchers. Dr. Christopher Ahmad is on the advisory committee for PitchSmart.org, and he is also the lead author on a new paper detailing an injury assessment tool for young baseball players, The Youth Throwing Score.
This is a follow-up to my previous post with respect to scapular strengthening for optimal shoulder function. Serratus anterior weakness is a common issue with overhead athletes, especially throwers. It may present clinically as scapular winging, however, it often fatigues quickly with repetitive throwing and contributes to scapular dyskinesia and shoulder dysfunction. Since throwing is an asymmetrical activity, I like to include some unstable and progressive strengthening exercises for the dominant arm.
In the video below (as part of my ‘Functionally Fit’ column for PFP Magazine) I will demonstrate how to use a bottom up kettle bell approach to strengthen the serratus anterior muscle.
To see the full article with progressions and regressions check out the link below:
In the case of shoulder pain and dysfunction, the lower trapezius and serrates anterior are often implicated as part of the problem. Research has shown that these two muscles often fatigue and don’t contribute equally to the force couple between them and the upper trapezius that facilitates upward rotation of the scapula.
Building scapular stabilization and dynamic stability is a must for those doing repetitive overhead activities such as throwing, swimming, serving, or work-related tasks. It is a given that asymmetries will exist, so optimizing the strength of the rotator cuff and scapular stabilizers is paramount to prevent injury and recover from overuse syndromes.
To strengthen the lower trapezius, one of my ‘go to’ exercises is the lower trap raise. It can be done with just the weight of your arms or using light dumbbells. The link below includes the full description for the exercise, and I also embedded the video below.
In the next column, I will include a serratus anterior exercise using a kettle bell as a follow-up to this post.
I work with a lot of baseball players in my clinic. In many cases, I see similar issues and recurring problems in them, especially pitchers. Some of these issues include:
I integrate routine mobility exercises for my throwers, as well as other overhead athletes (tennis, swimming, volleyball, etc) to better prepare them for training and their sport, as well as prevent poor mechanics and compensatory motion that may lead to aberrant stress on the rotator cuff and labrum.
The following video reveals five of my preferred exercises using a foam roller to improve thoracic spine mobility, decrease latissimus tightness, and stretch the pec major/minor while facilitating lower trapezius activation.
In order you will see:
I advise performing 5-10 repetitions of each prior to training and sport. These will help improve performance, optimize overhead mechanics and reduce injury risk associated with overhead sports.
This post is dedicated to improving mobility in two areas I commonly find restrictions in among my clients - the ankle and thoracic spine. Specifically, I often find limitations in dorsiflexion and thoracic spine rotation that create undue stress on other parts of the kinetic chain.
Recently, I wrote an article for the WeckMethod site on how to assess and improve ankle mobility. As a clinician and coach, I see this issue in many runners and athletes I work with. At times, it is joint restriction, while in other cases it is soft tissue limitations that impact mobility.
There are several potential reasons why one might possess less than optimal movement in the ankle. The most common causes include: joint stiffness following injury and/or immobilization, soft tissue tightness in the gastroc/soleus complex, scar tissue from a prior injury, anterior ankle impingement, chronic ankle instability and adaptive shortening of the Achilles tendon. Want to read more?
Decreased mobility in the thoracic spine often creates dysfunction and stress on other parts of the kinetic chain, namely the shoulder and lumbar spine. In many cases, clients will demonstrate asymmetry based on their sport, activity level and injury history. In light of this, I often prescribe a simple, yet effective corrective exercise they can do at home to restore motion. The exercise below is taken from my ‘Functionally Fit’ column I recently did for PFP Magazine.
In the full online column, I reveal two ways to do this and the applications for it. This exercise also offers a way to assess your own range of motion, while teaching you a straightforward corrective exercise to improve mobility.