I’m certainly not an expert when it comes to medical knowledge. All I’ve learned is from reading, talking to experts and seeing the impact that this game has on the bodies of the players who play it. I also have to come clean and admit that I was just as guilty of causing players pain as any coach could have.
Shoulder pain in pitchers is becoming a real hot-button topic. There have been many studies that have been published recently that have called into question many of the old beliefs that we used to cling to when we asked our pitchers to keep on pitching and pitching and pitching and pitching.
What these studies are telling us is pretty shocking. More than 60 percent of pitchers are experiencing considerable pain more than 24 hours after pitching. This pain is reported after both practices and games but is definitely increased by pitching on consecutive days, whether that pitching is in games or practice. Players experiencing pain that persists more than 24 hours should be examined closely and should include pitch counts, pitching mechanics, the amount of rest between pitching days and post pitching treatments to help with rehabilitation.
What hurts — or maybe more importantly where it hurts — is going to tell us a lot about what type of injury a player has.
Pain in the front of the shoulder can be biceps related. Whether it is a strain or tear will determine the amount of pain.
Pain at the top of the shoulder may be in the joint itself or in the trapezius muscle.
Pain around the outside of the shoulder is likely to be rotator cuff related and again can be bursitis or a more severe type of injury.
Pain in the back of the shoulder can be from an impingement in the rotator cuff area.
So when a pitcher says her shoulder hurts, we have to take this statement seriously. Knowing where it hurts can really help in determining what the problem might be.
For many years we held to the idea that the underhand pitching motion was less damaging than throwing overhand. This assumption might still hold true, but that doesn’t mean that the underhand motion is without risk. When the pitcher’s landing foot hits the ground an immense amount of force is driven through the shoulder as the arm accelerates to whip the ball towards home plate. Try it, you’ll feel it.
So if we have a pitcher who is experiencing pain, we need to take it very seriously and get to the bottom of where the pain is coming from. We need to be sure that each pitcher’s mechanics are fundamentally sound to limit the potential for damage. We need to understand that overhand throws, fielding drills that include throwing or playing additional positions with a great deal of overhand throwing is adding to the problem.
Coaches it is up to us.
1. Realistic workloads in practice that take into account all the throwing our pitcher do, both pitching and overhand.
2. Developing a pitching staff to allow all pitchers the opportunity to rest.
3. Less back-to-back games.
4. Less multiple-day tournaments with a high number of games.
5. When she says her shoulder hurts, that means she shouldn’t be pitching.
6. When she lies to you about her shoulder pain you have to read the signs, facial expressions, loss of velocity and loss of control are all signs.
About the Author: Tory Acheson brings a wealth of knowledge to the Fastpitch Prep staff. He has coached at all levels of the game, including the last 25 years at the college level at the University of Wisconsin – Parkside, Tennessee Tech and Kennesaw State. He began his coaching career at the high school level spending 9 years Whitnall High School in Greenfield, Wis. and is now working as a professional softball instructor.