Well, the summer is over. In many ways, it seems as though it just began. In other ways, it feels like it went on forever. There are some girls who move right into the fall season after the summer, and others just wait until spring. From 1990 to 2000, I played year round softball between the USA and New Zealand. I did have one season in Australia too but, the point was… it was game, practice and tournaments for 11 months per year. Looking back, I don’t know how I did it.
These days, I end the season in early September and begin my lessons and clinics. To be honest, the travel for clinics is just as much as my playing schedule (from one coast to another) but, obviously there isn’t as much wear and tear in between. Before I started my business here, I really enjoyed the mental break of the season ending. While softball is in my blood and it’s hard to not think about it 24/7, at least I knew I had the option to think about it! These days, even though I’m not playing.. softball is still on the forefront of my brain for almost the entire year. How I went so long without getting burnt out amazes me. And it’s equally amazing how kids today can go so long, so much without being burnt out. I guess it’s true: Youth is wasted on the young.
Injuries happen, pure and simple. Anyone with a background in sports is not human if they don’t stand in awe of the streaks by Cal Ripkin and Brett Favre. While they played ‘injured’ at times, there was nothing to keep them out of the line up. That’s beyond amazing, that’s astounding.
Personally, I’ve suffered from the 2 most common injuries that fastpitch pitchers get: knee and lower back. Being a right handed pitcher, it’s my left knee and left side of my lower back. My knee had to be surgically repaired in 1996, and not surgery with lasers and small holes… they had to go in with knives and cut things apart!. It was Patella Tendinitis. Many baseball fans will recall that Mark McGwire suffered the same injury later in his career. The pain is under the knee cap and it’s pure agony to walk on, let alone pitch or run.
The back pain is still something I deal with. It will probably never go away, it’s something requiring maintenance and constant care. One day can be fine, the next painful… and that’s with and without having pitched! This is related to problems in the disks of my lower back and it needs to be worked on immediately. Ironically, both injuries are caused as a result of pitching and little can be done to prevent them.
Being a right handed pitcher means my left side is most exposed to these injuries. Obviously, a left hander will have the exact opposite leg/side. In a nutshell, here is what happens: When I push off the rubber, my body is going both UP and OUT toward homeplate. My left leg is the stride leg and will be one coming down onto the ground and the impact it makes when it hits the dirt sends 7 times my body weight through my joints due to the momentum, gravity, and force. This sends a pounding through the knee and up into the lower back. Over time, this pounding takes it’s toll.
If you are a pitcher or the parent of a pitcher, you will probably notice that the pain is increased when you pitch on a very very hard surface (gym floor, rock hard dirt, etc.) something without any give when landing. So, whenever possible… try to land on the softest surface possible.
Now, there’s good news and bad here. The bad news is obviously the pain. The good news is, the pain means she’s getting tremendous force into her pitches from her body. Now it’s time to correct these things to prevent and/or maintain the body.
The knee is slightly easier to fix because there is more muscle in the area. Whenever people ask me about what kind of exercise program a pitcher should do for strength training, my answer is pretty simple that they should do whatever a sprinter does since legs are the key to pitching. But, to help the knee in this case, the muscles around the knee cap have to be strengthened to hold things in place. So, find a good physical therapist or write to Marc Dagenais at Softballperformance.com. He has some excellent programs for softball conditioning. Patella Tendinitis (sometimes called “Jumper’s Knee” and common in basketball too) can be stopped before it gets too serious.
The back pain is more serious and scary. Again, the pounding is simply pushing the disks out of place in the lower back. That sounds serious and it is! But, there are techniques which will help relieve this pain. They are simple and effective and can be done in between innings, every night before bed, every morning before starting the day, etc. I don’t think there’s a such thing as doing TOO MUCH of these. The main one that can be done anywhere is to simply stand straight up, put your hands on the back of your hips so the fingers point right to the spine. Your thumbs will point down and the heel of your hands will be facing forward. While keeping the knees straight, arch the your back trying to bend backward at your waste. You will feel the disks literally being pushed back into the spine. Now, 10,000 more of those and you’ll be back in shape! If your pitcher has low back pain, have her try this immediately. It becomes one of those “hurt so good” type pains as she does this because it really hitting where the pain in her back is located.
Now, for those of you wondering… I’m not a doctor (but I did stay at at Holiday Inn Express last night). I’d suggest you go see a doctor if in ANY pain. Do a Google search on the McKenzie Method for back pain. It is as series of stretches and exercises to help, literally, push the disks back into place. You don’t need to believe in Chiropractors to use this method of back pain relief, although seeing a chiropractor regularly is something I swear by. However, I know others don’t like them. Heck, those crooked pens they hand out alone are enough to scare people away! But, back injuries are unlike anything else. You can put your arm in a sling if it hurts and not use it… you need your back for everything. So, make sure regular maintenance is done to it!
Hopefully I’ll get to meet many of you this fall/winter as my clinic schedule is filling up. I’m scheduled everywhere from Florida to Seattle right now and hopefully more things will be scheduled soon. Hosting clinics is a great way to get all your coaches, parents, and pitchers on the same page. Some teams/organizations also use them for fund raising and as a player recruitment tool! If I see you at one, please say hello.