Cold Weather and injuries

A few years ago I saw a high school pitcher end her season early.  During a pre-season tournament that was not important, she pitched game after game with temperatures in the low-40’s and an icy wind.  By the end of the tournament she was popping Ibuprofen, but the shoulder was already in big trouble.

Let’s talk about cold weather pitching.  Northern pitchers will deal with this for at least the next two months.   When the body detects cold, the blood begins to pool inward to protect the vital organs.  Things like arms and shoulders get less blood supply, less warmth, and have a much more difficult time getting loose for athletic competition. 

Another factor.  Go out on a very cold day with no coat and stand still.  Immediately the body will try to preserve heat.  The first thing that happens is that you will involuntarily hunch your shoulders and pull them inward.  If you try to pitch like that, normal shoulder rotation and having a whippy release is impossible.  Injury risk is multiplied greatly. 

Cold weather means that muscles that need to be loose have little chance of doing so.  Again, tight muscles are a huge source of injury.  So, we need to prevent all of the above. Here are some suggestions.

Wear more clothing that you feel you need.  Kids are afraid that clothing will restrict movement.  Wear layers, and as many of these as it takes to be warm.  I like to try to get kids to wear enough layers that sweating is a real possibility.  You may feel “bound up” on the outside, but the inside will be able to function properly, so the results will be better.  Don’t just wear layers on the top, but consider a base layer on your legs.  Remember, too, that a lot of heat loss is from the head, so a fleece headband is the minimum you should wear.  Without proper preparation, the things mentioned above are almost certain.

In the mountains of Virginia, we can get some frigid temps and icy winds early in the season.  I would always purchase dozens of handwarmers and body warmers for our pitchers to put anywhere they could tuck them into the uniform between innings. 

Be more intense with your warmups.  I am not talking about pitching harder, but run more, dynamic stretching, and try hard to be as loose and whippy as possible.  The tendency is to want to stand huddled against the cold, but you must fight that urge and get warm.  Between innings, consider exercises that keep the blood pumping.  Take a huge fleece blanket to the dugout.  Hot drinks may not raise the body temperature a lot, but can give you a great mental lift.  Whatever it takes.

Cold weather is among the greatest risk factors for an athlete’s health.  This is no time to be tough.  It is a time to take care of yourself so that, when the playoffs come, you are ready to “show what you are made of”.

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