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The Myth of Baseball Pitchers Icing: Why Ice is Not Nice

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I wrote on this blog not long ago about the myth that baseball pitchers should static stretch before they throw. Not only has that proven to be the cause of more shoulder injuries, but the study I posted has proven that static stretching prior to throwing also reduces velocity. Yet, you will see thousands of Little League, high school, and college pitchers static stretching using the “buddy” system prior to throwing.

Most informed baseball people know that the shoulder joint is already loose and doesn’t need more stretching. More stretching is what we try to avoid by doing exercises, which help with stability so that humerus (upper arm bone) seats itself within the shoulder socket. Otherwise, the unstable shoulder will eventually become weak and injured. Thus, the reason for rotator cuff exercises. The shoulder needs stability.

Another huge myth today in baseball pitching is the administration of ice after pitching. You can see this being done at the Major League level after many games. So, if icing is good enough for Major League pitchers, then it must be good enough for all pitchers. Right? Wrong!

After all, you can actually purchase devices that nicely attach around the shoulder and elbow so that icing is more convenient and comfortable. When we first started nearly 10 years ago, we, too, sold those icing devices but have not done so for at least seven years. Why? Because we did some research that proves that icing the pitchers arm does not help the arm recover, but actually slows down the recovery process.

Icing the Arm Inhibits the Natural Healing Process

You see, what happens when ice is initially administered is it brings blood to the site where it is applied so, for the pitcher, this would be to the shoulder or elbow. Blood is good because it provides healing. However, as the ice stays on, the blood can no longer get into the area, so after a few minutes of icing, the area is prevented from beginning the natural healing process. Icing stops an immune response, which is healing.

Why, then, do Major League pitchers ice? Because they do not know or understand this. Yet, now there are several Major League trainers who will not allow their pitchers to ice, just like most would not allow their pitchers to static stretch.

So the fact is that “ice is not nice.”

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.”

Watch how many kids you will see icing their arm this year under the guidance of well-intended but misinformed parents or coaches. This actually sets them back and slows their arm from recovering.

So remember this: Ice is not nice.

The key to improving pitching velocity is to recognize the mechanical faults that prevent pitchers from developing momentum and force or preventing forces from efficiently transferring from the body to the arm.

Improving pitching velocity is simple when you understand how to videotape, what to look for and then how to make changes that stick for the long term.

But, remember this, there are no secrets to pitching improvement. Just sound sports science principles that we apply to pitching that just make common sense. No magic spoken here.

Our Pitching DVDs teach parents as an easy way to help their sons use their bodies to pitch instead of just their arms. Not only does this improve velocity but reduces the risk of arm injuries. We also teach them proper conditioning.

“I had spent several hundred dollars on a pitching coach who was leading my son down the path to ruin. He embraced every failed philosophy and technique you’ve identified – long toss, towel drills and more drills ad nauseum. My son’s skills were deteriorating. When I found your website and read your report, I sense intuitively your words had merit and deserved further study.”
Mark Smith, Downers Grove, Ill.

14 Responses to “The Myth of Baseball Pitchers Icing: Why Ice is Not Nice”

  1. Mark Schmid Reply

    Would love a citation to the research you reference that proves icing the pitchers arm does not help the arm recover.

  2. Larry Atherton Reply

    I found this information by searching goggle scholar myself. “An Alternative to Ice: A More Comprehensive Method to Post-Pitching Recovery,”

    David Wm, Yeager, ATC, CSCS June 2011.

    This paper is a review of literature (8 pro-ice/12 anti-ice). In addition, it cites 63 citations from scientist and sports medicine professionals.

    Just a dad with a son who pitches.

  3. Bruce Bocce Reply

    please provide me with the Physicians name and research documentation that prooves that icing after a pitching outing does not provide assistance

    • Bruce,

      What type of assistance. Actually the proof of icing working has never been established. Until it has then why would we assume it worked to provide any benefit. Certainly not because many MLB pitchers do it.

      Here is a study that shows it provides no benefit:

      RESTING IS AS GOOD AS CRYOTHERAPY (Icing the Arm) FOR RECOVERING FROM REPEATED STRENGTH MOVEMENTS AND AFFECTING THE NEXT EXERCISE BOUT

      Wu, R.-P., Tseng, K.-W., Huanh, C.-Y., & Wang, Y.-P. (2006). Effects of electrotherapy and icing on damaged muscle during repeated sets exercise. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 38(5), Supplement abstract 2175.

      Non-weight-trained females (N = 36) performed 30 eccentric actions with the non-dominant elbow flexors using a dumbbell set at 80% of maximal voluntary isometric contraction force. Ss were then placed into a cryotherapy (N = 12), electrical therapy (N = 12), or control (N = 12) group based on their maximal voluntary contraction force (strength). Immediately after the exercise Ss were treated for an hour. Ss then repeated the exercise. Measures were assessed before, immediately after, and on days 2, 4, 7, and 10 post-exercise.

      The electrical therapy group decreased further in strength after the treatment whereas the cryotherapy and control groups did not. There were marginal differences between the groups on various measurement days. Generally, electrical therapy did not show any obvious advantages and to all intents and purposes resting is as good a cryotherapy for influencing muscle strength and range of motion.

      Implication. Cyryotherapy (icing) provides no distinct advantage over resting for influencing subsequent repetitive strength performances.

      [For baseball, this suggests wrapping the shoulder in ice would have no benefit over doing nothing at all.]

  4. Don Balius Reply

    I have read a lot of articles on icing the arm after pitching. Seems like everyone has an opinion on the matter and its really hard to determine who to put your faith into. What are your thoughts on arm icing for 11-12 year old pitchers? Also, what about ice applied directly to the ulnar nerve in the elbow? I really want to protect my pitchers and provide them the proper protocol for post game arm care. I am sure Dr. James Andrews has some insight to this matter. Your timely response would be greatly appreciated.

    • Don,

      Go to my Blog from my home page and add the work Icing to the Ask a question box. You will read what you need to know including what Dr. Andrews thinks about it.

      No benefit to icing. In fact, it may actually slow down recovery time.

      Apply ice to the ulna nerve? Do you want to freeze that nerve and make it useless?

  5. Don Balius Reply

    Dick,
    I asked the question about the ulna nerve only because I read that you should not ever put ice on the ulnar nerve but when you ice the elbow the ulna nerve does get iced. I guess the question I have is any damage done to the nerve if it does have ice applied. I am going to your blog site now.

    Thanks

  6. Jclevo Reply

    I agree with Coach Mills and the study. Ice helps temporarily for reducing swelling but warmth/resting circulates your 98.6 degree blood to reduce/eliminate inflammation.

  7. Sandy roga Reply

    Dear coach,
    It is important to note when icing is bad and when it can be beneficial for a pitcher. Avoiding the ice in a pitcher who is healthy is smart and advisable, but to an acute injury to the shoulder or even e chronic condition icing can benefit the shoulder or elbow by decreasing the abnormal swelling or chronic swelling that other wise will damage the joint and create instability. Icing can be used, but it need to be control and combined with thermal therapy depending on the problem. Avoid making a general statements when icing can beneficial in certain conditions,
    Sandy Roga

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  1. The Scientific Reason Why Baseball Pitchers Should Never Ice Their Arms | Pitching.com - May 21, 2014

    […] He posted the following comment on my blog about my article I posted years ago titled –  The Myth of Baseball Pitchers Icing: Ice Is Not Nice […]

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