During that time my job was to treat, rehabilitate, and prevent injuries. It was also to recognize signs and symptoms of problems before they turned into significant injuries.
What I found out very quickly is that arm problems rarely just “pop up” out of nowhere. There are always signs and always symptoms. Always…
Many times the coach will notice a change or changes, but justifies these changes as something different than a possible physical problem.
Some of these changes are deemed as “normal” but should be looked at more closely. Things like a sudden decrease in velocity, or a loss of consistency or command when pitching are signs that something is up and it is up to the coach/player/parent to be aware enough to get checked out.
Other signs that a problem is occurring is a player that is suddenly lacking confidence when he throws…a big change in his body language when he is on the mound.
Obvious signs are pain, weakness, lack of range of motion, decreased ability to recover between outings, etc…
The problem with “Soreness”
Being sore after throwing is common and somewhat normal. However, the problem is that soreness has become the norm and when a player tells the coach or parent that he is sore, it is almost always shrugged off as part of the game and never looked into further.
While many forms of soreness are just that…a normal reaction to throwing a baseball over and over again, many times it is and can be a problem. If coaches, players and parents made a small effort to find out about the “soreness” and figure out if it is normal or something more, I really think we would see a huge reduction in arm related injuries with throwers.
Being sore in the legs, lower back, core area, and upper back after a start is pretty normal and usually can be relieved with some rest. Having pain, tightness and/or soreness in the elbow, front of the shoulder, or forearm area, after an outing is something that needs to be looked at further and much more closely.
Communication is the Key…Effective Communication that is…
I have always approached my athletes a little differently than coaches or parents might when I question how that athlete is feeling or doing. I ask much more pointed and specific questions. When approaching a pitcher, for example, I might ask him if his arm is feeling tight at all, or loose. This kind of question will get a much better and honest response than just the “how are you feeling” question that they are used too.
Some of my go to questions for pitchers: “Are there any kind of strange of weird feelings in your elbow or shoulder when you are warming up or throwing harder?” “Does your arm feel tight or loose today when you are throwing?” “Do you feel like you are throwing hard today?” “Did it take you long to get warmed up?”
These kinds of questions open the player up to express much more of how he is really feeling to you. They are specific and pointed and he will respond much better than the basic questions he is used to getting and used to responding to.
The bottom line is to communicate. Ask questions, lots of them. Show the player that you are interested in really know how he is feeling…better yet, how his shoulder is feeling…how his elbow is feeling…how his velocity is today…how his command is today…how his forearm, low back, legs etc…. ask pointed questions.
Doing this will give you as the parent or coach a ton of real and useful information and you probably won’t get blindsided with an arm issue halfway into the season.
Big arm injuries almost never just happen randomly. There are signs leading up to the problem. It is your job as the coach or parent to help the player recognize them and share the signs with you. Doing so might just save the player from a major problem that could impact the rest of his season, or worse…his career.