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Health & Exercise Forum

Avoid Spring Baseball Shoulder Pain

May 10, 2009

Dr. Paul MackareyIt happens every spring.  A young pitching ace that started strong is now beginning to lose some speed on his fast ball.  A third baseman that had no problems last week can’t throw to first without pain.  Shoulder pain in young baseball players occurs every spring just as the first robin, warmer temperatures, and the emerging sprouts of the spring flowers.  The cause of the condition was the usual: not properly preparing the arm for the season.

Gino Tempesta, former baseball coach at Dunmore High School and new coach at Scranton Prep, has spent this winter recovering from a total shoulder replacement. He is eager to throw batting practice and ultra-conscious about the need to properly prepare the shoulder for throwing to prevent injury. My associate, Scott Griggs and I conducted a conditioning seminar this winter for Coach Tempesta and his players to help prevent injuries. Another associate, Dr. Gary Mattingly, was kind enough to write this column to assist other players and coaches.

Spring shoulder pain may be prevented with the proper preparation for the season.  Throwing a baseball requires the shoulder to be very strong.  In the off season, a shoulder can lose much of its essential strength.  This loss will result in a deconditioned shoulder at the start of the first spring practice.  Practicing with a deconditioned shoulder commonly results in sprain, strain and pain.

To avoid spring shoulder pain it is necessary to maintain shoulder strength.  Strengthening exercises need to concentrate on three groups of muscles: the large power muscles of the shoulder, the muscles which stabilize the shoulder and the all important rotator cuff muscles.  Strengthening power muscles of the shoulder is fairly easy.  Pushups, lat pulldowns, bench presses, and bicep curls will cover all bases.  While these exercises are important in maintaining strength and power of the throwing shoulder, they are not as important as the exercises for shoulder stabilizers and rotator cuff muscles.

The shoulder stabilizer muscles connect the arm to the torso.  They serve as the foundation of the arm helping to stabilize the arm to the torso.  The many stabilizing muscles include the trapezius and the rhomboid muscles. Exercise for theses muscles include: shrugs, T’s and Y’s.

The rotator cuff muscles have many functions.  They are essential for the stability and proper function of the shoulder joint and in the throwing athlete they serve as brakes during the follow-through phase of a pitch.  Exercises for the rotator cuff muscles include internal and external rotations.

While exercise is essential for conditioning the shoulder in the off-season, a graduated throwing program is also important.  In the book The Athlete’s Shoulder, a throwing program is suggested.  Training is every other day with a day’s rest in between.  A ten minute warmup such as light jogging is suggested before throwing.

Day 1: 45ft – 25 throws - rest - repeat

Day 3: 45ft – 25 throws - rest – repeat – rest – repeat

Day 5: 65ft – 25 throws - rest - repeat

Day 7: 65ft – 25 throws - rest – repeat – rest – repeat

Day 9: 90ft – 25 throws - rest - repeat

Day 11: 90ft – 25 throws - rest – repeat – rest – repeat

Day 13: 120ft – 25 throws - rest - repeat

Day 15: 120ft – 25 throws - rest – repeat – rest – repeat

Day 17: 150ft – 25 throws - rest - repeat

Day 19: 150ft – 25 throws - rest – repeat – rest – repeat

Day 21: 65ft – 25 throws - rest - repeat

Day 23: 65ft – 25 throws - rest – repeat – rest – repeat

With the proper preparation, spring shoulder pain can be avoided in any baseball player.

Contributor: Gary E. Mattingly, PT, PhD is a professor at the University of Scranton, Dept of Physical Therapy and an associate specializing in the prevention and rehabilitation of shoulder injuries at Mackarey & Mackarey PT Consultants in Scranton, PA.