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More than 625,000 baseball injuries occur in the United States each year. The most common are shoulder, elbow, groin and hamstring injuries caused by strength or mobility imbalances from overuse. (Learn how Craig Kimbrel stays healthy.)
Since baseball is a one-sided sport—i.e., players throw and swing from the same side of their bodies—muscle imbalances will inevitably occur if you fail to take preventative measures. The best way to prevent injuries is to eliminate such imbalances so your strength is applied equally across your body, and so you can perform skills in a natural and uninhibited range of motion.
Here are a few common problems that baseball players encounter, with suggestions on how to correct them.
Weak Scapular Stabilizers
Many young baseball players' shoulder blades don't sit against their ribcage. Instead, they are often abducted, or pulled off the ribcage. Known as "scapular winging," this condition results from lack of strength in the scapular retractors, which leads to faulty throwing mechanics at the shoulder joint.
Improving strength in the rhomboids, trapezii and serratus anterior will often correct this problem—and help prevent elbow and shoulder injuries down the road. One of the best exercises to target these muscles is the Blackburns series. Do it for 10 reps of six seconds. Follow with Scap Push-Ups for three sets of 10 to 20 reps.
Lack of Shoulder Internal Rotation
Glenohumeral Internal Rotation Deficit (GIRD) refers to a loss of internal rotation in the throwing shoulder compared to the non-throwing shoulder. GIRD is caused by repetitive throwing. It is associated with shoulder pain during throwing, and sometimes with a rotator cuff injury. A small decrease in internal rotation in the throwing shoulder is normal in overhead throwers, but if it's substantial, it can become a risk factor.
To improve shoulder internal rotation, perform the Sleeper Stretch for three sets of 30 seconds before and after throwing.
Lack of Hip Internal Rotation
As with the shoulders, the hips of a throwing athlete are subject to loss of mobility if not cared for, especially in a pitcher's stride leg. This can cause stress on the front of the shoulder and elbow when throwing.
To improve or maintain hip internal rotation, perform the Knee-to-Knee Stretch for three sets of 30 seconds before and after throwing.
Overall Movement Imbalance
You can't perform 1,000 right-handed throws and zero left-handed throws during a season and not expect some imbalance. The best way to prevent it is by performing non-dominant side med ball drills. They may feel awkward at first, but they will improve your proprioception and body control, while evening out the amount of work your muscles do on both sides of your body. (Try these med ball exercises.)
Posner, M., Cameron, K., Wolf, J., Belmont, P., & Owens, B. (2011). "Epidemiology of major league baseball injuries." American Journal of Sports Medicine. 39. 1676-1680
Photo: Harvard-Westlake Chronicle