Arm Care for the Baseball or Softball Athlete
It’s that time of year, folks. Baseball/Softball season is going strong and athletes are feeling the aches and pains that accompany all of their throwing. Before long, an athlete who isn’t taking care of himself will likely complain of a rotator cuff that feels more like beef jerky than strong, athletic muscle. Fortunately, a proactive athlete can keep the majority of these nagging issues at bay. Through rigorous foam rolling and dedicated training on the small group of muscles that maintain shoulder stability, there is no reason an athlete should break down over the course of a season.
The simplest action an athlete can take in preventative care is dedicated use of a foam roller or ball. If you lack a roller at home, you can use a softball, tennis ball, or even a golf ball to relax inflamed or “knotted up” tissue. By placing a ball against a wall and leaning into it, you can cover the area where the shoulder meets the outer chest, the deltoid (the round mass on the outside of the shoulder), and more importantly, the posterior side of the body.
When rolling out the back, it’s important to pay attention to the musculature surrounding the shoulder blade. Typical hot spots in overhead athletes include the area between the shoulder blade and the spine (middle of the upper back), as well as the meat below the armpit and the back portion of the shoulder itself, known as the posterior deltoid. By taking care of these general areas and performing additional arm care, a great deal of the risk associated with throwing can be averted. Please note that when foam rolling, you should not roll on top of the shoulder blades or the armpits themselves, as you could potentially do damage to the underlying tissues or lymph nodes.
The above areas are likely to be tender in athletes who are in season or have recently increased their pitch count. It is important to remember that when foam rolling tissue, you should do your best to relax into the ball or roller. By remaining tense, you diminish the effects of foam rolling. If you are simply unable to relax, try using a tool that is less dense. For example, it is rare that I can tolerate a golf ball around my shoulder blades, but a tennis ball does wonders.
Now that we have addressed mobility, we can also discuss stability and strengthening of the shoulder girdle. The shoulder is by far the most mobile joint in the body. While this allows us more function as humans, there is a cost. A mobile joint suffers from greater risk of injury. The more capacity for movement, the more likely something is to go wrong. If the musculature surrounding the shoulder girdle is not strong enough to absorb the repetitive trauma of max effort throwing, an athlete is placed at greater risk of injury. If you are looking for some sample exercises to cover stability through the majority of shoulder range of motion, please see this video. Just as stated in the video, it should be noted that these movements are best performed with lighter weights or minimal band tension. Controlling the shoulder blades can be difficult for young athletes who are still developing body awareness, but moving with intent is vastly more important than moving heavy weight in these small muscle groups.
While the information above may seem as though it is a lot to digest, an athlete who takes his or her time to complete this body care on a regular basis is only looking at 10-15 minutes of work. The exercises mentioned above are all easily accomplished at home, and the foam rolling can be performed while watching television or lounging around before bed. Just like studying for a big exam, the individual who partakes in smaller, more focused bouts of arm care will be better prepared for any test that stands in their way.
For those of you interested in the benefits of self massage and foam rolling, we at Teamwork Bloomington are fortunate to have the aid of Sports Massage Therapist Leisa Parks, who not only offers her services regularly, but also holds tissue health classes around the first week of every month. Stay tuned on social media for posts about upcoming dates. For more about Arm Care, please feel free to contact Teamwork Bloomington.
By: Seth Eash