Can softball pitchers suffer from the same types of injuries common to baseball pitchers? Yes, they can. And many players and parents may not know it.
There is a general belief that softball players have far less risk for injury. The softball pitching motion, it is said, is more natural for the arm. Less stress is supposedly placed on the throwing arm during a softball pitch.
A research study in the Journal of Orthopedic & Sports Physical Therapy compared overhand and underhand “windmill” pitching. The study showed that torques on the arm during a fast-pitch delivery are similar to those of overhand pitching.1
In this post, we’ll cover:
- Causes of softball pitching injuries
- Common softball pitching injuries
- How to prevent softball pitching injuries
- How Michigan Surgery Specialists can help you
What causes softball pitching injuries?
The greatest danger for softball pitchers is overuse. Overuse leads to tendinitis in the rotator cuff, biceps and other tendons of the arm. Repetitive strain weakens the tendons in your arm. Microscopic tears form. Not giving your arm enough rest makes this problem worse.
Softball pitchers may be at a higher risk for overuse injuries because there is less awareness of the issue. In baseball, there are programs designed to teach parents and coaches how often a pitcher should pitch. There isn’t such a concern for overuse injuries in softball.
Poor pitching mechanics
Pitching naturally puts some strain on the arm. Improper pitching mechanics put more strain on parts of your arm, which may increase your chance for injury. Poor pitching mechanics and overuse are a bad mix. Improper mechanics repeated consistently will do more damage to a pitcher’s arm.
Common softball pitching injuries
There are several injuries that can result from overuse and/or poor mechanics.
This may be the most common sources of pain for softball pitchers. Tendinitis is an inflammation of the tendons. That inflammation is caused by small tears in the tendon from repeated use.
For softball pitchers, tendinitis may happen in the rotator cuff, elsewhere in the shoulder, biceps and elbow. The main symptom of tendinitis is pain. Often pitchers will describe a dull ache that worsens with movement.
Most cases of tendinitis can be treated with rest, icing, and anti-inflammatory medication. In some cases your doctor may prescribe corticosteroid injections. If not treated properly, tendinitis can lead to ruptures that would require surgery.
Golfer’s elbow or tennis elbow
Both of these conditions are referred to as “epicondylitis.” While they may be called golf and tennis elbow, you can experience these conditions from many activities, including softball.
People who suffer from these conditions feel pain in their forearm. Epicondylitis is another condition involving inflammation. It’s treated the same way that you would treat tendinitis.
Throwing sports can lead to rotator cuff or biceps tendon tears. Sometimes a tear can be acute, happening with one jerking motion. But most tears are degenerative. They’re a result of overuse for extended periods of time. If you ignore the warning signs of overuse, you can eventually tear the affected tendon.
Tears can be either partial of full. Pitchers with torn tendons experience pain, particularly with movement. You may feel sharp pain shooting down your arm. You may also be unable to use your arm effectively.
Depending on the severity of the tear, a doctor will start with non-surgical treatments. These include: rest, anti-inflammatory medication and physical therapy.
If non-surgical treatments don’t resolve your pain, a surgeon can repair your tendon. Your doctor might also recommend surgery if the tear is large, or if it was caused by an acute injury. The doctors at Michigan Surgery Specialists can evaluate your injury and provide guidance.
How to prevent softball pitching injuries
Now that you know about the ways you can get hurt pitching a softball, let’s talk about prevention. There are a few steps that you can take to reduce the likelihood that you’ll injure your arm.
Limit your pitching
Overuse is the primary factor in softball pitching injuries. So the best thing you can do to avoid getting hurt is limiting your pitch count. As we’ve pointed out, there may not be a strong awareness of overuse injuries in your league.
Softball doesn’t have national standards for pitch counts. The University of Florida features a maximum pitch count table in its “Softball Injury Prevention” guide. However, you may find other references for an ideal pitch count.
Work on proper mechanics
Since poor mechanics is the other cause of pitching injuries, we recommend working on those mechanics. You coaches will be able to identify what you’re doing wrong, and help you correct it.
Don’t skip warmup. Stretch your shoulders, elbows and wrists. Don’t go straight to max effort pitching. Warm up your legs and core muscles as well. Tightness in your muscles can add to the strain on your arm when you throw.
Strengthen your arm
Weak muscles and tendons are more easily injured. This is especially important when it comes to pitching, because pitchers put a lot of strain on their arms. If the muscle structure isn’t enough to support the force of pitching, you may be more likely to get injured.
Don’t play through pain
Your shouldn’t have pain in your shoulder or elbow. You might be tempted to play through the pain because you don’t want to look weak. You don’t want to get benched. Don’t. Continuing to pitch when your arm is injured will only make the injury worse. At a certain point the injury will prevent you from playing.
Feeling pain after pitching? We can help.
If you’re experiencing pain after pitching a softball, we can tell you more about your condition and what needs to be done to correct it. The surgeons at Michigan Surgery Specialists are experts in sports-related injuries. Contact us today to set up an appointment or to get more information.