Every baseball game begins with a pitch, a motion that uses your full body from feet to hands and everything in between. Pitching is a series of movements that starts with your wind-up, progresses to ball release, and ends with your follow through. This sequence is one of the fastest and most powerful human motions ever recorded. Baseball is a repetitive sport, you perform the same moves over and over again. Repeated max effort throws can have negative consequences. Nearly 50% of youth and high school pitchers will experience elbow or shoulder pain in their young career. Pitching and baseball are not going anywhere. With competition and big league goals, performance will continue to progress. As we throw harder and pitch more, balancing the stress becomes an important factor in development.
Stress is neither good OR bad. Stress is good AND bad. The end result depends on a lot of factors from age and maturity to sleep and nutrition. Over time, high effort throws will result in physical changes to your arm. Good news, the body will adapt to pitching with the intent to make you a better pitcher. The bad news is, sometimes (not all the time), these changes can come with pain, injury, or discomfort. Not everyone is the same and not all changes are equal. You can have pain with no changes and vice versa. Some pitchers even have labrum damage and feel their best. Pain is not 100% directly correlated with findings you see on x-ray or MRI, they are a piece of the puzzle. Adaptations do impact mechanics, range of motion, and the ability to produce force. This is where we should focus our attention.
If you are a pitcher, take a look in the mirror and see if you have any of the common changes below:
Is your throwing shoulder lower than glove side?
Does your throwing elbow straighten all the way?
I bet you can externally rotate your throwing arm more than your glove side.
Raise your arms straight forward and reach overhead, keep thumbs up. Does it look the same? Does your throwing arm reach the same height? Maybe your throwing arm compensates out or rotates to match the glove side.
Over time, some baseball players will have more obvious changes than others. For the most part, the above are harmless, if you can keep them in check. Every pitcher will have an optimal level of adaptation that improves performance. Balancing stress and recovery is key.
Some of the pitching aftermath is hidden from plain sight and you might not notice till it’s too late. Signs of something brewing are decreased velocity, increased tightness, decreased strength, and prolonged soreness.
Arm Health Changes:
- Decreased rotator cuff strength
- Shoulder & elbow inflammation
- UCL “TJ Ligament” laxity
- Elbow bone spurs
The best way stay healthy, is to promote resilience. Are you preparing your throwing arm to perform the extremely stressful movement of pitching? Focus on controlling what you can control. 1st, eat and sleep enough to recover properly. 2nd, reinforce the rotator cuff and forearm muscles with purposeful exercise. 3rd, maintain mobility and keep up with your soft tissue. If you are going to throw hard, make sure you prepare harder.