Icing a Baseball Pitcher’s Shoulder and Stretching
Here is an email I got from a college pitcher regarding whether he should ice his shoulder and static stretch:
I’m a college pitcher, and I never have iced that much. My shoulder is sore from throwing, and I wondered if you think I should ice it. I read an article where you said not to ice. I was just wondering if maybe I read it wrong. Also, I noticed you said that pitchers don’t need to static stretch. Does that mean any stretching at all? Should I not stretch at all before I throw?
Unless you have an injury where there is swelling I would not recommend icing. There is no evidence that icing the shoulder after pitching is going to aid in any way, despite the fact that you see many Major League pitchers icing. Many Major League trainers are trying to get pitchers to stop icing for this very reason. However, what icing is going to do is slow down the body’s natural healing process since it prevents new blood from getting to the site and starting the healing process.
So, if you want to recover more quickly, you are better off doing some exercise after you pitch, which should help flush the waste products (not lactic acid) from your shoulder. You can run for 20 minutes or so while trying to keep your arms moving. Lactic acid, by the way, is gone from your system by the time you remove your spikes in the dugout after you pitch.
Inflammation, which is the reason that most pitchers ice, is a normal response by the body to heal itself. That is why you do not want to take anti-inflammatory drugs because they will actually lengthen the recovery and healing time.
A sore shoulder may be an indication of overuse (too many pitches during an outing), poor mechanics, or a poor warm-up. Poor overall flexibility of the body can also lead to arm injuries, such as tight hips or lats, which can affect the ability of the arm to get to full extension as well as front shoulder tightness from exercises, such as bench pressing. If the rotator cuff or scapula muscles are weak, this, too can lead to soreness because you have lost stability within the shoulder.
Static Stretching Can Do More Harm than Good
Static stretching (or stretching in place) should not be done prior to pitching because it has been proven to actually reduce performance and increase the risk of injury. It also has been proven to reduce velocity in pitchers. So, do not allow anyone to “buddy” stretch you where another player pushes on your shoulder or elbow in an effort to get you looser.
A pitcher’s shoulder is already the most loose joint in the body. For a pitcher, having a shoulder that is too loose can lead to injury. There is a fine line between being too loose or too tight.
Yes, pitchers do require flexibility. However, any full body static stretching should only be done after competition. Normally, three times a week is enough.
Prior to pitching you should do a dynamic warm-up where the body temperature is elevated, and the muscles get warm. Your dynamic warm-up may consist of doing some lunges, push-ups, med-ball twists, light sprints, and very light flexible tubing. Do not, however, overdo the flexible tubing prior to throwing and the caution with flexible tubing is not to take the shoulder or elbow joint beyond its normal range of motion. That can lead to injury.
The First Pitch Strike, Warm-up And Recovery Program for the pitching arm was introduced in Nov. 2011.
This is the only scientifically designed pre-game or pre-bullpen warm-up program that warms up every muscle in the arm that is involved in pitching. Then you have the added benefit of a three-minute program that pitchers do after pitching that helps the pitching arm recover faster, so the pitcher is ready for his next game. I call this simple program “arm insurance.”