Even on a cold January day, it's not too early to start preparing your body for baseball and softball season. In fact, it's a perfect time for young athletes to start preparing their shoulders and the rest of their bodies for the rigors of throwing the ball around.
Over 2 million kids play baseball and softball, according to Little League Baseball Inc. The most common injuries in baseball, and second in softball, are injuries to the shoulder, elbow or hand. These account for about 45 percent of all injuries, according to 16-year NCAA injury surveillance data published in the Journal of Athletic Training.
The injuries often occur from overuse of the muscles and tendons around the arm. Overuse injuries occur primarily for one of two reasons.
First, the muscles are asked to do more than they are prepared to do, which is why it is important to start training well before the season starts.
Second, the muscles often do not have adequate recovery time between bouts of exercise. This is very common when young athletes are playing on multiple teams, doing the same activity. It is especially a problem for pitchers serving in that role for more than one team. The Little League organization has instituted pitch-count limits of no more than 75 pitches in a game to reduce risk of injury.
It is imperative that athletes prepare their muscles for throwing. Weak and tight shoulder muscles may predispose athletes of all ages to injury. It takes about six weeks to get your muscles in shape for the season, so start early.
Often athletes progress their throwing too quickly in the first few weeks of practice. Gradually increasing pitch volume over the first three weeks allows the muscles to adapt to the demand. Allow for arm recovery of one to two days throughout a week.
A few simple exercises to help minimize injury may improve throwing performance. First, start off with some general agility motions like jumping jacks or a light bicycle ride for 10 minutes to warm up.
Next, strengthening exercises -- such as rows, pull downs, and rotator-cuff strengthening, with arm at side and in the throwing position -- will strengthen your shoulder and scapular muscles. Use lightweight or elastic tubing from a store for resistance and start performing two sets of 10 repetitions for one week, then increase the repetitions and sets so that in about three weeks you are performing three sets of 15 repetitions.
There are many versions of shoulder exercises available on the Web, such as the “Throwers 10” and other programs. If you have questions or problems, it's best seek the opinion of a sports medicine professional who can help design a specific program.