SUNDAY, March 21, 2004 (HealthDayNews) -- Baseball players may be the boys of summer, but it's usually early spring when practice begins.
Though players at all positions have to take care when the weather's still chilly, pitchers have to be particularly careful the cold doesn't throw them a curve. That's because pitching is such a specialized, injury-prone activity in the first place, and throwing a baseball when it's cold is even riskier.
According to sports medicine experts at Georgetown University Medical Center, the combined windup, leg kick, delivery and follow-through of the typical baseball pitcher is a feat of biomechanics that's downright unnatural. Throwing with intensity, speed and control is absolutely an acquired skill.
Researchers at Johns Hopkins University describe the forces involved as equivalent to someone trying to dislocate pitchers' shoulders. In fact, in a three-year study of college baseball players, tendonitis of the shoulder was the most common injury.
Year-round, warming up is essential for pitchers preparing to avoid tendonitis on the mound. Once pitching arms are warmed up, the warmth must be maintained, which is why pitchers often don jackets or windbreakers when their team is at bat. In the early spring, the danger of the shoulder muscles cooling down and tightening up during periods of inactivity is the highest, but there's never a time of year when the danger isn't present.
Young baseball pitchers are at particular risk of baseball injuries early in the spring, in part because they don't understand the importance of warming up their arms and keeping them warm over the course of a game. Recommendations for youth, their coaches and parents to keep in mind as the weather warms include:
- Warm up gradually; cold or tight muscles are easily strained.
- Begin with short, easy tosses from 10 or 15 feet before throwing hard.
- Don't overdo it during the first few days of spring practice or the first few minutes of any practice.
- Pitching involves more than the arm. Keep the rest of the body in shape with running, biking, swimming, sit-ups and stretches.
- Avoid a sidearm delivery or curve ball, which puts more stress on the elbow than an overhand motion.
- Keep your arm warm during non-pitching periods. In the spring, wear a long-sleeved shirt under the uniform shirt and wear a jacket between stints on the mound.
Learn more about baseball safety from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.