Why Every Pitcher Needs to Improve Shoulder Flexibility

The act of throwing a baseball is a tremendous biomechanical movement that places stress on many areas of the body, especially the shoulder and elbow. While throwing a fastball - one of the fastest human movements recorded - a pitcher's shoulder can rotate at angular velocities exceeding 7000 degrees/second. The repetitive nature of throwing is another factor that plays a role in injury. Continued throwing activity causes tensile stress on the front of the shoulder during the wind-up and the back of the shoulder during the follow through. Additionally, successful throwing requires strength and mobility from the hips, legs and core. All in all, throwing a baseball is a beautiful and powerful movement when done correctly, but can be a cause of injury when done incorrectly or too frequently.

Nearly every successful pitcher works to improve the flexibility of their shoulder, elbow, thoracic spine, and hips to increase their chances of success during competition. Repetitive throwing often leads to tightness or loss of mobility in elbow extension and shoulder internal rotation. Maintaining mobility and flexibility of the hips and thoracic spine is also advantageous for the overhead athlete.

Shoulder stretching focuses primarily on increasing shoulder rotation flexibility and posterior shoulder mobility through the sleeper stretch, cross body stretch, and stretching the latissimus dorsi muscle. The sleeper and cross body stretches are pictured below (Wilk et al. J of Orthop Sport Phys Ther. 2013)

Maintaining flexibility and improving mobility throughout the thoracic spine is also critical for the overhead athlete. Improving mobility can decrease stress on the shoulder joint and surrounding musculature. Rotational stretches, such as the open book stretch, help maintain mobility of the thoracic spine. Thoracic extension stretching, such as the cobra extension stretch in yoga or over a foam roller, is also beneficial.

Finally, a pitcher at any level of competition may benefit from total body flexibility exercise including stretches for the hamstrings, hip flexors and hip external rotators. A pitcher is expected to stride the length of their body as they push off the mound, and a good follow through demands hamstring flexibility to get over the front leg. Lower body strength and flexibility can reduce stress and improve performance in the upper body.