Spring youth baseball season is upon us, so now is the time to talk about a few common youth baseball injuries. They are all fixable, but if left unchecked, they can lead to problems. So let's get out in front of them.
Around age 12, youth baseball players start playing longer seasons on bigger fields, with additional demands from fall ball as well. Their bodies typically aren't prepared for this kind of game and training load, which can lead to injury.
1. Sleeper Stretch
The most common arm problem that arises in throwing athletes is a loss of internal rotation in the throwing shoulder. This is especially prevalent among baseball pitchers, but it has the potential to affect any throwing athlete. It is important to note that a loss of internal rotation is actually considered a "normal" finding in throwing athletes. Typically, a throwing athlete exhibits less internal rotation, but more external rotation on the throwing side. As long as the total range of motion (internal rotation + external rotation) is roughly the same in each shoulder, it's not a big issue. But it's a good idea to do the Sleeper Stretch on a regular basis to make sure you don't lose internal rotation to a point where your total motion in the throwing shoulder is affected.
2. Serratus Slide
Scapular winging is common among baseball players, most often caused by a combination of a tight pectoralis minor and weakness in the serratus anterior. (Both these muscles are in the upper chest near the shoulders.) Winging, like lack of internal rotation, is another condition that correlates with a higher risk of arm injury, so keeping the serratus anterior strong throughout the season should be a priority for any throwing athlete.
The key when performing a Serratus Slide is to make sure the shoulder blades are protracting and upwardly rotating instead of simply shrugging. Think about trying to wrap your shoulder blades around the front of your body and push your elbows up without shrugging.
Perform 3 sets of 12-15 reps.
3. Internal Rotation Hip Stretch
Most people don't consider the hips when they think about preventing arm injuries, but loss of internal rotation in the glove-side hip has been shown to lead to throwing arm injuries in some studies. This loss of hip mobility, caused by the repetitive nature of throwing, is most often found in pitchers.
There are a couple of ways to do this stretch. The first is to bend both knees to 90 degrees, spread your feet as far apart as you can, then try to touch your knees together by internally rotating your hips.
Another variation (one I like better) is to internally rotate one leg at a time, then push that hip into the floor.
The best way to do it, however, is to have a partner help out. Lie on your stomach with your glove-side knee bent 90 degrees and your arm-side leg straight. Have your partner pin your arm-side hip down with his knee while pushing your glove-side hip toward the floor and holding your knee in place.
The goal should be to achieve 45 to 60 degrees of internal rotation on each hip, with an equal amount of mobility in each hip. Hold each stretch for 3 sets of 45-60 seconds.
4. Bench Lat Mobilizations
The lats are a common tight muscle group in baseball and softball players, and they should be addressed in players' post- and between-game stretching routines. This is a variation of the common Bench Lat Mobilization, which I started using with my baseball and softball players this year. I like this variation better than traditional "praying stance" lat mobilizations, because it acts more directly on the lats.
Place one elbow on a bench and use your opposite-side hand to brace your arm and prevent it from internally rotating. From this position, push your chest toward the ground until you feel a stretch in your lat. Keep your core braced throughout the motion. Repeat 10-20 times for 2-3 sets on each side.
5. Pec Minor Corner Stretch
In addition to serratus anterior weakness, another potential cause of scapular winging is tightness in the pectoralis minor. This results from frequent throwing, and should be addressed with stretching and soft tissue work on the pec minor. The best way to stretch the pec minor by yourself is with the Pec Minor Corner Stretch. Place the front of your throwing shoulder against the corner of a wall, then turn your head and body as far away from the wall as you can while maintaining a braced core and squeezing your shoulder blades together. Repeat for 3 sets of 45-60 seconds.
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