The Windmill Pitching Motion
The windmill pitching motion (which some coaches have insisted is less stressful) can be just as destructive as the forces on the shoulder similar to what baseball pitchers experience. Younger athletes heal faster and often don't present with soreness in the days after competing. Well intended coaches continue to use the model of 100 pitches a day are needed for consistency and accuracy in pitching. I also believe in that strategy however across the board in therapy we are seeing softball pitchers are beginning to be more injured as a result. I feel there are 3 causes of pitching injuries that can be corrected.
#1 - Need for Scapular Stabilzation and Rotator Cuff strengthening.
Weak rotator cuff muscles allow for the shoulder ,over time, to sublux or partially dislocate. Exercises such as planks, side planks, side lie and standing band resisted shoulder rotation are very a good start to decreasing that from happening. Consult a physical therapist for a sport specific rotator cuff strengthening program that can be incorporated into pregame and off season workouts.
#2 - Poor Mechanics
If you're coaching a young pitcher, it's especially important to make sure they are making a perfect circle with proper shoulder rotation.They should avoid jerking the head, neck or shoulders as they whip their arm down to release the pitch.And the follow through is key.Pitchers who stop their arm movement at the release point (instead of following through) show a much higher rate of injuries.Following through allows pitchers to safely diffuse the momentum created by their arm circle and ensures that no sudden action puts their arm at risk for injury.
Even if an athlete has perfect mechanics, throwing too many pitches will wear down the body and result in overuse injuries.It's important to know the difference between normal soreness (temporary stiffness from a workout) and bad soreness (chronic pain from overuse).Nagging pain, fatigue, decreased performance, change in mechanics, loss of velocity or control or changes in a pitchers attitude are all signs of overuse.Some athletes won't tell you when they're really hurt, so it's important to also watch a pitcher's body language or facial expressions.
Here are a few guidelines to help avoid overuse injuries:
* Warm up properly by stretching, running, and easy, gradual throwing
* Try the following pitching drills at practice.
~10 Wrist flicks
~10 K drill snaps
~20 Reach, Drag, Snaps
~10 Double circles
~10 Walk throughs
~20-25 Live pitches
~10 Wrist flicks
* Rest is critical. Avoid throwing every day. Don't pitch multiple games every weekend. It's the constant overuse over a long period of time that does the damage.* Research shows younger athletes under 13 shouldn't pitch in games more than two consecutive days.
* Athletes 13 and over are likely ok to pitch in games up to three consecutive days (but no more)* Be aware if your pitcher is playing on multiple teams. Work with the other team's coach to make sure you are providing adequate rest. Or better yet, don't let players pitch on multiple teams with overlapping seasons.
* Be cautious with the "no pain no gain" mindset and make sure the athlete's best interests are first and foremost.
* Don't pitch with pain. See a doctor if the pain persists for more than a week.
We've all seen promising young pitchers get their careers cut short by injury... and it's something our community needs to recognize and prevent!