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Baseball?

I walked past a father and his young son last night. They were out on the lawn, throwing a baseball back and forth. The boy was about seven years old, and hadn’t yet learned all the details of throwing overhand. I am sure he will learn over the next few years, and likely enjoy it for a decade or two more.

His father looked comfortable. But many adults can not comfortably throw anything more than a couple of times. More than that and they are sore and stiff, and they even tear muscles. What happens to change things as we age?

The common wisdom is that the arm and shoulder get stiff. I am going to disagree. We use our arms and shoulders all the time for all kinds of daily activity. The problem with adults throwing baseballs is not an arm and shoulder weakness. It  is a whole body pattern.

When we first go to school, we learn to sit still. Then eventually, we go to work. We learn to sit still for very long times. We come home tired, and we sit. We go out to restaurants, movies, parties, etc. and we sit more. Our spine gets in the habit of not doing very much.

Children play. They run, tumble, climb, dance around, and generally play with their bodies and their environment. They use their whole bodies, and often don’t know how to separate themselves into parts the way adults do.

There are some big advantages that adults have, but the sitting habit is not one of them. When we go to throw a baseball, it has often been hours since we used big movement in our spine to shape and support our extremities. We are strong enough to manipulate the world by hand alone, not needing to out our whole body into each movement. This is not actually a good choice most times, but it can feel simple and easy, especially when we have our hips anchored into a chair.

Throwing powerfully requires bending and twisting the spine. If the spine does not move smoothly, then the force gets focused in the shoulder. A rapidly moving arm meets a still torso, and the shoulder is the place of the conflict. It is not shoulder weakness then that makes throwing hard, but spinal stiffness.

Torn rotator cuff, or torn labrum, is a common diagnosis. This is accurate in the sense that the tissue is torn, but inaccurate in the sense that the problem is not where the tear is, but in strong muscles that mis-direct the force. Fix the tear and the vulnerability still exists. To be able to throw comfortably, We must change the muscular action sequence so that the force is distributed properly. It is not a matter of age causing tissue change, it is a matter of inactivity altering coordination.

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September 9, 2009 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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