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Jun
10

Preventing Softball Pitching Injuries

Dr. Mackarey's Health & Exercise Forum

High school softball season is over; however, many young women will continue their sport throughout the summer. Unfortunately, female athletes are often forgotten when it comes to injury prevention. It is the purpose of this column to raise the level of awareness regarding prevention of pitching injuries in softball.

Pitching injuries in softball are very similar to the pitching injuries in baseball.  Bursitis, rotator cuff injury, impingement syndrome, little league shoulder, little league elbow are all common to the softball player/pitcher.  Sherry Werner, Coordinator of the Human Performance Laboratory at the Tulane Institute of Sports Medicine, says that 80 percent of college softball pitchers miss some playing time because of arm pain.  Equally startling is that the same problems exist for players in the 12 – 18 age groups.  The focus of this article is preventing arm injuries in the softball pitches.

Gerald Warner, a Colorado pitching coach, identified 10 injury-causing softball pitching problems:

  1. Overuse – As with baseball pitching, the most common cause of injury in softball pitching is overuse.  While there presently is no sanctioned pitch count in softball, one must be careful that a pitcher does not throw too many pitches and has adequate recovery between games.  It has been suggested that 12 year olds throw no more than 60 pitches, 13-18 year olds no more than 60 pitches and no more than 100 pitches for athletes 15 years old and over. 
  2. Inadequate warm-up – Muscles must be warmed up and stretched prior to demands of pitching.  Jogging for 3-5 minutes followed by a stretching program (never stretch a cold muscle) is essential before the first underhand pitch.
  3. Bending at the waist – Young pitchers have a tendency to bend at the waist during the final portion of their pitching motion.  At the time of release, bending forward causes a slower pitch and often can lead to back injuries. 
  4. “Snapping” the release – Some young players get into the habit of stopping their arm motion as soon as the ball leaves their hand which is known as “snapping the release”  Continued snapping the release rather than a controlled follow through may result in elbow and forearm injuries.  
  5. “Chicken-winging” – “Chicken-winging” is when a pitcher’s elbow flies out during the pitching motion.  This is not a natural part of a pitch release or follow-through which can lead to elbow and shoulder problems.  The pitcher should try to keep the elbow close to their side at the release to avoid undo stress.
  6. Practicing breaking pitches before you are ready – As with baseball, breaking pitches place undue demand on developing skeletons.  Although they may have the knowledge and ability to throw breaking pitches, they do not have the bone structure to weather the stress.  Growth plates are at risk and future pitching in advanced leagues may be compromised due to permanent shoulder injury.
  7. Pitching from the “Open” position –   Some pitchers are taught to “keep your body open (sideways to the catcher) when you release the ball”.  Unfortunately, many who are taught with this method develop a problem of bending at the waist during the final downswing and through the release of the pitch.  This additional torque can put severe pressure on the pitcher’s back. 
  8. Improper landing of the stride foot – Since the majority of female fastpitch pitchers use the “leap and drag” style of pitching, it is important that the stride leg drives out fast and far.  Ideally, the knee will be slightly bent at landing and the stride foot will land at an angle of between 20 and 30 degrees.  If the pitcher’s foot is pointing more directly toward the catcher, it can cause the bent knee to “buckle” and lead to injury.  If the foot lands at more of an angle, more than 45 degrees, it is too far sideways, and the “blocking” or pushback against the landing foot can cause an ankle, calf, and/or knee problem.
  9. “Jerking” the shoulders or head back at the release of the pitch – Although rare, some pitcher can develop a body “jerk” as they whip their arm down through the release point.  Although this “arm whip” is essential for maximizing the speed of the pitch, it should not involve any snapping of the upper back, neck, or head which may result in injury.
  10.  Not pitching like a girl – Many young female athletes are taught fastpitch basics from male instructors.  Unfortunately, there is a tendency by many male instructors to tell girl softball pitchers to “do it the way I do it” regardless of the girl’s age, size, physical and emotional development, athletic ability, etc. All pitches need to be adjusted to the abilities, needs and comfort-level of the pitcher.

CONTRIBUTOR: GARY E. MATTINGLY, PT, PhD, Professor Emeritus, University of Scranton, Dept. of Physical Therapy

Visit your doctor regularly and listen to your body.     

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This article is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. If you have questions related to your medical condition, please contact your family physician. For further inquires related to this topic email: drpmackarey@msn.com

Paul J. Mackarey PT, DHSc, OCS is a Doctor in Health Sciences specializing in orthopaedic and sports physical therapy. Dr. Mackarey is in private practice and is an associate professor of clinical medicine at GCSOM.