By Bailey Clark, PTA
Millions of young girls play softball across the U.S. and thousands suffer from overuse injuries. Shoulder injuries are the most common due to overhead throwing, but these types of injuries also include pitchers who use a “windmill” motion to deliver a pitch. In fact, pitchers throw hundreds of pitches per week between practices and games during the season. Despite what some call a more “natural motion” of an underhand pitch, repetitive use and improper mechanics can result in damage over time.
Overuse shoulder injuries can result in bursitis, tendinitis, rotator cuff injury, or impingement, just to give some examples. Typically these injuries occur at the adolescent level, but can happen in adults as well if play continues. Awareness of how these injuries occur is an important step in prevention, because these types of injuries are preventable.
Here are a some tips to help prevent these types injuries and how to stay healthy in order to continue playing:
- Allow an adequate amount of time to warm-up prior to the game. Going into a game without proper preparation further increases the chance of injury. Make sure to stretch, perform light running/agility activities, and throw to prepare the body for actual play.
- Implement a good strengthening program specific for throwing. Make sure that this is an age-specific program as well. Age specific is important because younger athletes’ bodies are still developing, so if the intensity is too much, they are at an increased risk for injury. Make modifications as needed based on age, ability to perform exercise with proper mechanics, and the appropriate amount of resistance or weight.
- For athletes 14 years and older, look into a program such as Thrower’s Ten. This specific program is directed toward overhead athletes.
- Ensure proper mechanics with both overhead throwing and pitching motions. Poor mechanics leads to poor movement patterns that become habits which contribute to injury.
- For pitchers, stick with age-appropriate pitches for the current level of play. Allow bones and muscles to mature prior to throwing advanced pitches. Progress slowly when learning new pitches to ensure proper mechanics and not develop “bad habits.”
- If play becomes serious and an athlete begins playing at a competitive level, find a private lesson instructor. These instructors will help to break down proper mechanics for both overhead throwing and pitching. Not only can instructors help ensure proper mechanics, most will be able to help with establishing a proper strengthening program based on age and capability as mentioned above.
- Athletes and coaches need to be in communication with how the athlete’s shoulder is feeling. Do not continue to play if in pain and if pain persists, schedule an appointment to see a doctor.