How to Safely Return to the Mound After a Pitching Injury
An Interview with Physical Therapist & PPP Coach Dalton Schumer
For baseball players, the most concerning statistics aren’t about hits or strikeouts. They are injury rates. In fact, 50% of professional baseball players report having had an arm injury during their career.
While these injuries can be a setback, if handled correctly, they don’t have to impact your long term outlook on your performance.
Dalton Schumer, a licensed physical therapist and one of Premier Pitching Performance (PPP) coaches, sheds light on common baseball injuries and how you can approach the road to recovery.
Understanding Common Pitching Injuries
Statistically, players are experiencing higher rates of injury in 2023. According to Baseball Prospectus research, elbow and shoulder injuries in the 2023 season have increased 44% from just a year prior.
"The injuries we see in the throwing athlete varies across the ages," explains Schumer. In young athletes up to about 16, growth plate injuries are predominant, particularly at the inner elbow and posterior shoulder. As the athletes age, these areas remain vulnerable, but the nature of the injuries change.
"Those same areas are the most common at older ages, but come in the form of soft tissue injuries such as UCL (Tommy John Ligament) in the elbow and Rotator Cuff or Labral issues in the shoulder."
First Steps for Recovery After a Pitching Injury
While injuries are often multifactorial, Schumer believes that the initial reaction and ability to understand why your are injured can set the tone for recovery.
"Understanding why the injury occurred is the first priority. Use it as a learning opportunity, take what was formerly a weakness and work on developing in that area to shield yourself from injuries in the future."
In the baseball world where every moment counts, Schumer emphasizes the significance of time:
"Generally, players get better when they train, time away from training due to injury is setting you back and in the world of sport time is our most precious resource."
And if you’re unsure whether or not you’ve experienced an injury, error on the side of caution. Ignoring minor pains can lead to major issues. Generally, starting with preliminary measures to address inflammation are acceptable and if pain persists, it's time to consult a professional.
Guarding Against Re-Injury
After an injury, rejoining the game can be challenging both physically and mentally. So how can players ensure they don't return to the bench? Schumer provides a tri-fold solution, focusing on:
- Preparation: Ensure you are physically ready, covering aspects like strength, mobility and stability. "It's about our physical preparedness to tolerate the stresses of throwing," Schumer says. At PPP, each performance or pitching program is developed based-on assessments so that you can identify areas of your training or technique that you can focus on.
- Volume Control: Schumer says that it’s also important to focus on "how much we throw, in terms of volume and intensity per day/week/year." A well-designed baseball program will change depending on the time of year and your body’s needs. For example, during the offseason, it can be helpful to focus on active recovery and rebuilding.
- Addressing Mechanical Deficiencies: It’s essential for every athlete to understand their body mechanics. Schumer advises, "Know when to press the gas, when to pump the brakes and reduce mechanics that create unnecessary stresses at any one joint." One way PPP guards against re-injury is through biomechanical analysis and motion capture technology. This helps to understand exactly where the stress is coming from during your throw.
More Injury Prevention Tips For Baseball Athletes
Take the right steps to minimize the risk of a throwing-related injury with preventive measures. Here are some more tips to ensure you stay in top form:
Warm Up Properly: Before you even think about engaging in high intensity throwing, warming up is crucial. By including soft tissue work, dynamic stretching, mobility exercises or plyo drills, you'll significantly reduce the risk of injury just by being properly warmed up.
Monitor Your Throwing Workload: Overuse, both chronic and acute, is a common reason for injuries. Monitoring your throwing workload not only protects pitchers from injuries but also helps them train more efficiently. To ensure your longevity in the sport, coaches at PPP will help you manage your workload.
Adopt a Comprehensive Approach: It's important for you to understand when you are ready to push yourself and when to back off on throwing volume, intensity and frequency. Stick to a well periodized throwing schedule and develop an active recovery plan.
Brett Graves, former pitcher and co-owner of Premier Performance Pitching, recommends that players develop a holistic perspective to programming in order to stay at the top of their game:
“Most people attribute arm care to rotator cuff exercises and don't understand all the areas that go into managing a players arm health: workload management, strength plans, mobility and correctives, as well as, post-throw mobility and strengthening exercises.”
Following the Right Pitch Path Forward
Every pitcher, whether a budding young athlete or a seasoned MLB professional, has the potential to enhance their abilities and mitigate the inherent risks associated with throwing a baseball for the future of their baseball career with the proper training program.
Premier Pitching Performance offers high level information and application from their coaches, processes, and technology. For those looking to refine their pitching and gain a deeper understanding of their strengths and weaknesses, get started by booking a pitching assessment at PPP.
The game is not just about throwing – it's about throwing right, preparing right and above all, treating your body right.