By Chrystal Caudill
Easy stretches to keep America’s pastime fun, not painful
Spring is many things to many people, but if you ask a vast majority of sports fans…spring is all about baseball. The weather is ideal for watching a game from the stands, but what about those days when you just don’t have time for peanuts and Cracker Jacks? Why not head to the local park, or even your own back yard and play a simple game of catch? It’s an easy way to get some light exercise and soak up the sun and fresh air with your friends, kids or partner. These stretching and strength tips may not turn you into Nolan Ryan, but they’ll certainly help you follow proper pitching and catching form and avoid a pulled or strained muscle.
One of the biggest issues baseball and softball pitchers face is shoulder injury or strain. The repetition involved in throwing pitch after pitch can wear on the muscles associated with the shoulder and cause injuries like tendonitis or even a torn rotator cuff. Even as an amateur, backyard pitcher, you should take care to prep before throwing, to ensure you can enjoy an entire season comfortably.
Cross your arms in front of you, with the throwing arm on the bottom. You want to look like a genie granting a wish. Grab the back of your throwing arm on the bottom with your opposite hand and pull in towards your body. This stretch will help keep your shoulder from rotating into external rotation. Hold for about 10 seconds and repeat 5 times. Should you do this on both arms or just the throwing arm?
With your shoulders relaxed, bend straight down so your chin nearly reaches your chest. Hold this for 10 seconds and return to the starting position. You should feel a deep stretch through your trapezius muscles, down through the shoulder blades and up through the back of your neck.
Circling the arms is terrific for the shoulders, because it builds strength while increasing flexibility. Simply extend the arms out and rotate them forward in a circular motion. Start with small rotations, gradually increasing the rotation size and then reducing after you’ve done about 20 rotations. Then, reverse the motion so you’re doing backward rotations, and perform the same amount of reps.
Simple shrugs are also a great way to keep your shoulders warm and loose. Stand with your feet shoulder width apart, arms relaxed at your sides. Slowly raise your shoulders up toward your ears and hold for 5 seconds, then release. Then pull the shoulders back so your shoulder blades come together and hold for 5 seconds, and release again. Finally, round your shoulders forward so your shoulder blades are pulling away from one another and hold for the same amount of time. Repeat these movements 10 times.
Wrists are also susceptible to injury in the game of toss and catch. Protect your wrists by rotating them in circles before and after playing. You can also perform a stretch that will help the entire arm by placing one arm straight out in front of you, parallel to the ground. Rotate your wrist down and outwards then use the other hand to further rotate your hand upwards.
It is also important to remember, especially if you’re throwing a ball around with kids, to protect the head and face. A game of catch, even a slow and easy one, still involves a ball flying through the air. Use your best judgment. If you feel helmet and mouth guards are necessary, don’t be afraid to wear one or outfit your little ones.
All in all, spending sunny days at the park or enjoying your own backyard with family and friends should be enjoyable and leisurely – whether you play simple catch or a full-fledged game of softball. Take a moment to care for your body before and after play, and you’ll be active outside in the gorgeous weather from Spring Training through the World Series!
Have more questions? Find a physical therapist near you and make your own appointment today.