Every spring like clockwork, athletes run to their closets and retrieve their baseball gloves to begin the summer ritual of tossing a baseball. Older participants in this time-honored ritual should proceed with caution or be faced with a possible career-ending injury.
Throwing a baseball or softball involves the coordinated movement of multiple joints.
Contracting and relaxing muscles control the bones that make up individual joints. The principal joints involved are:
• Shoulder — a ball and socket joint consisting of the humerus and scapula
• Elbow — a complex joint that contains three separate joints: the humerus-ulna, humerus-radial and radial-ulna
• Wrist — among the most intricate joints because of the interface of many bones.
Stressing these areas before stretching the appropriate muscles and tendons can result in tearing. Professional baseball players all have a program for stretching and strengthening the upper extremities that is followed religiously.
“A proper stretching routine should be performed with gentle movement and without pain. Bouncing or jerking movements must be avoided,” said Debbie Gardiner, a physical therapist and certified athletic trainer at Procare Physical Therapy in Willimantic. A short toss at half speed should follow stretching. Gradually increasing distance and power is advisable before throwing hard.
Baseball and softball coaches who throw long sessions of batting practice and warm up the pitchers can be particularly vulnerable to injury as they age. Coaches should stretch along with players.
Pain is the best indication that a problem exists and is most likely due to inflammation. Rest and ice are recommended. “Playing through” arm pain can have disastrous consequences.
Consultation with a certified athletic trainer to establish an arm program for any throwing athlete is a worthwhile investment. The program should be a year-round effort for optimal performance.