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Brian Schiff’s Blog

Injury Prevention, Sports Rehab & Performance Training Expert

Tag: pitching injuries

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:

http://fit-pro.com/article-4136-Unilateral-bottom-up-serratus-punch.html

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:

  • Scapular dyskinesia
  • Limited thoracic spine mobility (extension and/or rotation)
  • Soft tissue tightness (lats, post shoulder, pec major/minor)
  • Poor muscular strength/endurance in the rotator cuff and scapular stabilizers
  • Glenohumeral internal rotation deficit (GIRD)

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:

  1. Lat rolling
  2. T-spine extension in supine
  3. T-spine extension coupled with lat stretch
  4. T-spine rotation
  5. Retraction and downward rotation

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.

Baseball pitchers who fail nonoperative care for SLAP injuries will undergo a repair if they wish to continue throwing. The injury may occur at ball release as the biceps contracts to resist glenohumeral joint distraction and decelerate elbow extension. The other thought is that injury occurs in late cocking as the result of a “peel back” mechanism when the abducted shoulder externally rotates. Previous research by Shepard et al. published in American Journal of Sports Medicine (AJSM) measured in vitro strength of the biceps-labral complex during the peel back and distal force and concluded that repetitive force in both scenarios likely causes SLAP lesions.

baseball_pitching_motion_2004

Baseball pitching motion 2004“. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

One of the concerns for pitchers after surgery is regaining full shoulder external rotation and horizontal abduction. If too much tension is placed on the glenohumeral ligaments during surgery, regaining motion can be tough. Ironically, external rotation is limited in the early phase of rehab to protect the labral repair which may impair throwing mechanics later on. Appropriate rehab and progression is paramount for long term success.

Laughlin et al. at the ASMI sought out to explore in a labaratory if there are differences in pitchers who underwent a SLAP repair compared to those in age controlled groups without injury.  In a paper published in the Dec. 2014 AJSM, the researchers hypothesized that the SLAP group would exhibit compromised shoulder range of motion and internal range of motion torque during pitching. Of 634 pitchers (collegiate and professional) tested at ASMI from 2000 - 2014, 13 in this group were included in the SLAP group as they had undergone a SLAP repair at least 1 year before their biomechanical testing.


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I see plenty of pitchers in my clinic ranging from 12 y/o travel baseball players to MLB guys. My own son is a left handed pitcher so I am always carefully watching his mechanics, pitch count and arm care. There has been much written about glenohumeral internal rotation deficit (GIRD) and total shoulder motion over the years.

total-shoulder-rom

Today, I wanted to recap a nice article that was recently published in the American Journal of Sports Medicine by Wilk et al. looking at deficits in glenohumeral passive range of motion (PROM) and the increase in elbow injury risk.

This prospective study was done over an 8 year period from 2005-2102 and looked at PROM of both throwing and nonthrowing shoulders of all major and minor league pitchers within a single baseball organization. The measurements were taken with a bubble goniometer during spring training. See images below from the journal article for how measurements were taken:

wilk-total-motion-measurement

In sum, 505 exams were performed on 296 pitchers. Motion was assessed in supine with the arm abducted to 90 degrees and the arm in the plane of the scapula.  One examiner stabilized the scapula, while another measured total rotation and passive flexion. Elbow injuries and days missed because of injuries were assessed and recorded by medical staff. Throwing and nonthrowing measurements were compared, while additional testing was done to find significant associations between shoulder motion and elbow injury, as well as odds of an elbow injury.


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verlander

Photo from Bleacher Report

Shoulder surgery is a big concern for any professional pitcher.  I am currently rehabbing two MLB pitchers (one from a labral repair and the other from a Tommy John procedure and obviously not JV pictured above). They are doing great so far in their early rehab, but time will tell if they make it back to their pre-injury pitching levels.

Overuse injuries in youth baseball players is always a huge concern I have.  In fact, I speculate that early wear and tear may contribute to injuries seen down the road in HS, college or the pro ranks.  I know from coaching and observing that more youth coaches need to familiarize themselves with pitch count guidelines and rest/recovery recommendations that Little League baseball now endorses.

As a sports physical therapist who sees 12 year-olds with RC problems and torn UCLs and as a father/coach of a 10 y/o left-handed pitcher, I have a strong passion and vested interest in the welfare of baseball pitchers. While research does not equate increased injury risk with throwing curveballs and sliders to date per se, both of my MLB clients advise against it until athletes turn 14 or 15.

For  information on injury prevention and pitching guidelines for youth, check out this website:

http://www.asmi.org/research.php?page=research&section=positionStatement

Today’s blog post focuses on outcomes following surgery for elite pitchers.  The following information was just published in the Jul/Aug 2013 edition of Sports Health by Harris et al. based on literature review based on these outcome measures:

Primary = pitcher’s rate of return to sport (RTS) at the same level prior to injury

Secondary = rates of RTS regardless of level, performance upon RTS and clinical outcome scores

“Elite” was defined as throwing in at least one game in MLB, minor league (A, AA, or AAA) or all collegiate divisions.   Six level I-IV studies were included with enrollment from 1976 - 2007, and there were 287 elite male pitchers who underwent shoulder surgery with 99% on the dominant throwing shoulder.  Most pitchers (276) were professional with a mean career length of 6.58 years.  Post-operative clinical follow-up within these studies was 3.62 years.

Primary diagnoses treated:

  • RC tear = 120 (43%)
  • Internal impingement = 82 (30%)
  • Labral tear = 74 (27%)

Surgical procedures performed:

  • Labral repair (157) or labral debridement (99)
  • RC repair (29) or debridement (162)
  • Thermal capsulorrhaphy (63)
  • Subacromial decompression (42)

The statistics reveal more debridement of the labrum (61%) and rotator cuff (85%) versus repair.  This is not necessarily surprising given the desire to minimize surgical intervention and loss of motion.

Return to Sport Data

  1. The overall rate of return to sport was low at 68%.
  2. Mean time to return to competitive pitching in a game situation was 12 months (range = 9 -17)
  3. 22% of MLB pitchers never pitched again in MLB
  4. Only 14% returned to competitive pitching in the same season as labral surgery
  5. No one returned to competitive pitching in the same season after rotator cuff surgery
  6. Reynolds et al reported a median of 2 seasons of pitching after debridement of partial thickness cuff tears
  7. Mazoue and Andrews reported a mean of 0.7 seasons pitching (range 3 innings to 3 seasons) after mini-open RC repair

Performance declined for the 3 seasons prior to surgery and then gradually increased for 3 seasons afterward, but generally did not reach pre-injury levels.


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