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5 Tips For Arm Care In Spring Sports

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Ken Guzzardo, PT, DPT, OCS, SCS – Co-owner, 3 Dimensional Physical Therapy
Keith Scott, AT, CSCS – Owner, Impact Training, West Berlin, NJ
Ryan McDevitt, PT, DPT – Co-Owner, 3DPT West Berlin, NJ

High school spring sports season means the return of baseball, softball, lacrosse, and track (and usually still snow on the ground). Also, it means the first time that some athletes are practicing their sports since last year. The Journal of Athletic training published an article looking at the incidents of shoulder injuries by month of the high school season.

5 Tips For Arm Care In Spring Sports

This data tells us that injuries are happening most commonly during the first month of the season. This finding could be attributed to a couple of causes, including lack of preseason preparation or a deficit in regaining mobility after normal soreness when first returning to an exercise. Since the offseason preparation window has closed, let’s talk about how to manage soreness and tightness through stretches to avoid compensations that could lead to injury.

Getting back into the swing of practice will cause soreness. As muscles are broken down (scientifically speaking), it normal to have lactic acid produced and tightness for several days after the initial exercise. Soreness at a muscle is perfectly normal to have with returning to your sport. However, soreness at a joint may not be typical. Your Athletic Trainer has extensive training to identify normal muscle aches and pains compared to something worse that needs treatment. Please see them if there is anything that you are thinking is more than “normal” soreness.

Muscle soreness and tightness after an exercise can alter movement. If you don’t loosen up properly, this altered movement could become more pronounced and, eventually, lead to an injury.

Here is Keith Scott from Impact Training and Fitness and Ryan McDevitt from 3D, West Berlin with 5 releases to keep your arms moving as you return to spring sports.

Overhead athletes, such as baseball or softball players, typically experience some soreness and tightness in the triceps area during the beginning of the season. While this kind of soreness and tightness can be expected and is usually not a serious problem, it is important to be proactive to keep this area pain-free and functioning optimally. Below is a quick video showing you how to use a lacrosse or tennis ball to perform some “self-massage” on the area. This exercise will help loosen and release some of the tightness and knots that can occur.

Tips: Place the lacrosse or tennis ball on a firm surface (like a table, or bench) and place the back of your arm against the ball. Apply gentle pressure on the ball at first, while rolling the ball back and forth along the entire triceps muscle. Be careful not to “roll” the ball over any bony structures around the elbow. Slowly roll back and forth while gradually increasing the pressure.

Once you find what we call the “hot spot” (an area that is a little more painful than the rest of the muscle), you should hold the position and try to apply some more pressure at that point. Roll and apply pressure for about 3 to 5 minutes.

Finally, as you are rolling back and forth, it can help to extend and bend your arm back and forth. This will allow the muscle to move which will help with the soreness and muscle spasms.

Infraspinatus (upper back area)
In the beginning of the season, we find that many pitchers experience some shoulder soreness after throwing a bullpen or pitching in a game. Sometimes the soreness is felt all around the shoulder complex. One of our “go-to” releases to help loosen up the shoulder, and to help rid the area of pain and soreness is to work on the back of the shoulder area (upper back) of the throwing arm. One of the rotator cuff muscles called the infraspinatus can tighten up, develop knots and cause a lot of issues for the player. It is important to deal with this area to help stay pain-free, and throw your best.

Tips: Place a ball on the floor and lie down with the ball against your upper back area (throwing side). Find the “meaty” area of the upper back around the scapular (shoulder blade) area, careful to avoid the boney areas of the shoulder blade and spine. Once you find that meaty area, apply pressure by pushing your back into the ball and slowly “rolling” the ball around in a small area. You will find the “hot spots” pretty fast in this area. With most people, and throwers in general, it will be sore and full of knots. Once you find a hot spot, attempt to place even more pressure on that spot for about 30-60 seconds. Resume rolling and looking for more hot spots. Spend about 3-5 min in this area.

Another spot we find soreness and tightness at the beginning of the season is the forearm area. Even if the player doesn’t have any soreness here, it is a great area to work on because it can really help the player stay healthy and throw better.

Tips: Place a ball against a firm surface such as a table or bench and roll the meaty part of the forearm up and down against the ball. Find those hot spots and hold up to 3 to 5 minutes. You can also take the ball in the opposite hand and apply pressure while your roll the ball up and down your arm. You should flex and extend your wrist while you roll to help loosen the muscle faster. Do both sides of the forearm while being careful not to roll over the boney areas.

Find a corner of a doorway or wall and place the ball against the wall. Place your body against the ball at your chest (pec) area. Walk your body through the doorway so you can apply pressure and a stretch to your pec area. Roll the ball up and down and around the small area of your pec, trying to keep the pressure around the outside of the pec where it attaches to the shoulder joint. Also, you can roll the entire pec muscle. Find the hot spots and hold. This release should be done for about 3-5 min. Really take your time finding the tight and sore areas.

Mid back
Lay on your side (as shown) with your top knee flexed over the foam roller to lock out lumbar spine. Use your bottom hand to hold your bottom half stable. Breathe in as you move your top arm across your body and turn your head and shoulders with it, keeping your lower half firmly placed on the floor. Breathe out as you hold the stretch for around ten to fifteen seconds, then return to the start and repeat 10 times.

Stay tuned for releases and mobility for the legs. Have fun this spring!

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     -      Dr. Kathryn Gollotto, DO - Orthopedic Reconstruction Specialists