Why Does it Hurt?

One of our readers had a great question this week. With so many advances in training and medicine, why do we see increasing injuries?

Let’s take a quick look at this from the softball pitching perspective.

Probably the top cause of injuries is playing and practicing too much. Sports used to be seasonal. Athletes moved from sport to sport. Different muscles were used in different ways throughout the year. Less muscle imbalance occurred. Additionally, the same parts of the body were not stressed repeatedly in the same ways.
Let’s use the example of a softball pitcher. If she throws 100 pitches a day in practice, then 200 on weekends, think of the repeated stress on the “push” and “landing” legs. The same muscles are being activated in exactly the same way thousands of times each month. The push muscles on one leg and the landing/resistance muscles on the other leg will see far more activity than the same muscles in other parts of those legs. It is only natural that these muscles will become more dominant, the tendons will see more use or abuse, and soon the structure of those legs and hips changes in ways that can be harmful. The same thing is happening all of the way up the body.
Playing too much exposes her to more risks in other ways. For example, some mounds have giant holes at the push or landing spot. This causes tremendous core instability, increasing injury risk and forcing the pitcher to try harder to “muscle the ball” in order to gain the same speed. Form suffers, injury risk increases, and the wrong parts of the body try to assist in producing positive results. Bad mounds are just one contributing factor. The more she is out there, the more defensive plays she will need to make, increasing the possibility of things like twisted ankles, hurting a shoulder or elbow because of a hurried but poorly executed throw to first base, or simply increasing the odds of taking a line drive to the body.
The more she is out there, the less recovery time she gets. The lack of rest means that the weakest link soon fails. As fatigue sets in, the form suffers, forcing her to use the wrong parts of the body. These breakdowns lead to more fatigue so it exponentially worsens.
With this in mind, a lot of people try to prevent such issues utilizing strength training. If done poorly, it creates even more injury risk. Too often we see the wrong things done at the wrong time for wrong reasons. This subject could fill a book, or several. Actually it has. Very simply, if you take a 15-year-old kid, throw her into bench press or squats to build muscle bulk, there is a good chance that you will do more harm than good. Many travel teams have a conditioning program and I applaud their motives, but be absolutely sure she is doing the right thing. The number one cause of injury we see among older students is strength training or conditioning. The number one priority should be to have a college trained pro with proper certifications teach her proper movements. A squat with weights, but using poor form can be disastrous. So can bench press. We avoid those for a very long time. Way before then we focus on the technique she needs to actually get the proper benefit from a specific exercise. We also suggest a complete assessment during this time to identify the areas of the body that need work, from flexibility to imbalance.
Proper strength training does not make her bullet-proof. As one reader suggested, some kids seem to be predisposed to injury. Unfortunately our bodies are not always equal. Our Instructors were recently learning about scoliosis. We discuss Osgood Schlatters disease. We have written a lot about Thoracic Outlet Syndrome. We have seen several kids whose tendons were slightly out of place, who had a bump on a bone in the wrong place that caused it to rub against something that was unable to withstand the pressure, who have many different parts of the body that never developed properly or at the right time. Under normal circumstances they might never be noticed. In some cases, aggressive strength training revealed them, too much play exposed them, and sometimes just one wrong move at the wrong time caused a failure.
Also, remember that the athletes around her are bigger, faster, and stronger. The game is faster, balls are hit harder, batters are better trained, they are more experienced, and they are smarter, so she is forced to push herself to the very edge in order to compete and to be safe. That is asking a lot of a developing body on a weekly basis.
A lot of things are going against her. Not all injuries are preventable with all people. The key is to do everything possible to find ways lower the odds of injury and lessen the exposure.

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