Pre-Game Warm-up Exercises to Prevent Injuries
by Herb McReynolds, M.D., F.A.C.E.P.
(This article appeared in the Spring 1991 Inaugural issue of HardBall Magazine)
Almost every time I play ball, someone comes to me and asks, "Doc what's wrong with my _____?” or "Hey Herb, why does my ___ hurt?” Well, you can fill in the blanks, but if you play in the Men's Senior Baseball League, just about any and every part of the male anatomy could be inserted. In this column, we'll attempt to cover preventive medicine so maybe your ___ won't get injured and your wife won't laugh at you when you are too sore to work on Monday morning. We'll answer your questions, so send those in and we'll respond in print.
Now, I'm not the Dr. Ruth of the sports medicine world, so I may not have all the answers, but if I don't know the answer, I'll consult a variety of sports medicine orthopedists, physiologists and psychiatrists who reside here in Tucson.
Every February, March or April, depending on your area's climate, a young man's thoughts or impulses turn to love, while the more sensible men over 30 begin thinking baseball. There's nothing like smelling the pungent leather of an old glove that's been hibernating in the garage all winter, shaking the roaches, spiders, or scorpions out of your cleats, and walking out on the field to the smell of fresh spring grass. And, if you don't step in a sprinkler well or the field's best pothole and sprain your ankle, you know it's going to be a good season.
Unfortunately, the next thing most of us do is whip our throwing arm around whirlybird fashion to break up last season's adhesions and scars in the shoulder joint, and after the grating and popping subsides, we start throwing the ball. Minus the pain and sound effects, that's the way we did it when we were kids and that's the way many of us do it now. But that's not the right way to get ready to play ball!
When we throw a baseball, we use more than just an arm. Just listen to the senior pitchers in the majors, and almost to a man they'll tell you leg and total body conditioning is just as much a part of their success and longevity as arm conditioning. Warming up is the same way. Don't throw a ball until your entire body is loose and ready! And that's the first time out and each time out for the whole season.
Before you throw and play, follow this loosening and stretching routine that should become part of any athletic endeavor you pursue:
First, jog slowly around the field for two minutes…longer if needed. You'll feel your heart beating faster and the blood pumping harder and you'll start to feel warmer. When this happens, your joints and muscles are getting warmer and will stretch more easily. Remember, this is a slow jog that is for warming up, not aerobic conditioning.
If you didn't collapse during this part, you're ready to stretch. The key to this is to maintain each muscle stretch for 15-30 seconds. Don't bounce up and down or back and forth and don't stretch the muscle to pain. The idea is to prime the muscle, not to leave you reaching for the ice pack and Motrin.
Start with the neck and work down and you won't miss any joints or muscles. Turn your head to the right until you feel the muscles along the left side begin to stretch, and hold this for 15-30 seconds. Then turn to the left and repeat the stretch. Finally, touch your chin gently to your chest and hold. Do not hyperextend or tilt your head backwards, as this puts undue stress on the cervical vertebrae and you have already stretched your anterior neck muscles by doing the above.
Next, we can move to the shoulders and do our whirlybird routine. Start with your arms straight out, parallel to the ground, and make increasingly larger circles with each rotation. After 10 rotations, reverse the direction. Then, reach behind your head and down your back with your right arm and grab your right elbow with your left hand and pull gently behind you. By holding this for 15-30 seconds, you'll feel a great stretch in your right arm. Repeat this with your left arm.
Now for the final shoulder stretch: with your right forearm crossing in front of your neck, reach behind your left shoulder and grab your left scapula, or shoulder blade. With your left hand on your right elbow, pull toward your left shoulder and hold. Then reverse and repeat.
To stretch your lower back, stand with your feet at shoulder's width. Reach up over your head with your left arm and reach down the outside of your right leg with your right arm, then lean gradually to the right and hold the stretch. Switch arm positions and repeat to the left.
Hams and Quads
In our league, the most commonly injured muscles are the hamstring group (or the posterior thigh muscles) and the quadriceps (or the anterior thigh muscles). Once you acquire one of these painful injuries, it also becomes a big pain in the gluteus, because it usually takes six weeks or longer to heal. I think these stretches are so important that I repeat them before playing, several times during a game, and after a game as well.
To stretch the hams, place your right foot on a bench or against a fence and keep your right leg straight. Bend forward slowly at the hips (not the back) until you feel the stretch (not pain) up the back of your leg, and hold this for at least 15 seconds. Switch legs and repeat. If you are like I am and had your tendons shortened in the prenatal genetics lab, then repeat these until you feel loose. This stretch may also be performed by sitting on the ground with both legs straight out in front and reaching slowly for your toes until you feel the stretch, then holding that position. Do not bounce back and forth.
For the quads, you may need to lean against a fence for balance. Standing on your left leg, bend your right knee behind you and grab your right foot with your right hand. Pull your right foot up so that your heel approaches or hits your buttocks and until you feel a stretch down the front of your thigh. After 15-30 seconds, switch to the other side.
Finally, we move to the calf muscles. Bend your left leg at the knee and place your right leg straight and directly behind you. Keep both heels flat on the ground and push against a fence or wall until you feel a solid stretch down your right calf. After the appropriate time, change sides.
Do It Again
Believe it or not, now you're ready to throw the ball and start playing! I know reading these instructions might make you believe we're really playing Twister, but we're not, because none of us can bend like that anymore.
Repeat this routine several times, methodically stretching from head to toe (or neck to calf-) and you'll soon be able to complete the jog-and-stretch program in five minutes--at most ten if you need extra stretching. (I'm sure it will take you longer to read our instructions than it will take to do the stretches.) However, I guarantee you that five or ten minutes of prevention beats the four to six weeks of recovery time from a muscular injury plus the extra time it takes to recondition your cardiovascular fit- ness and refine (or in some cases, re-find) your baseball skills.
We believe so firmly in this pro-gram that we have a physical therapist give a stretching clinic before each tryout we have here in Tucson. So this season, get to the park a little early and give your body that great warm-up it deserves.
Special thanks to Terri Antoniotti, Physical Therapist, and Cathy Pilarski, Physical Therapy Assistant of S.C.O.R.E. Physical Therapy and the Fitness and Health Institute of Tucson for their generous help in creating this stretching program for the MSBL.
Q: Rounding first base, I severely twisted my right ankle. What's the best treatment initially for an injury like that?
A: The initial treatment for almost all musculoskeletal injuries is covered under the ICE therapy routine: Ice, Compression and Elevation. The "I” may also stand for Immobilization. Any time you have an injured extremity, immediately elevate it, apply an ice pack (do not place ice directly in contact with the skin, use a towel or cloth) and compress it firmly, not tightly, with an Ace bandage. If you have a deformity, hear a pop or crack, or have no ability to use the extremity, then you should also immobilize it with a splint or other device. Future columns will deal more with acute injuries as well as what I think belongs in any MSBL first aid kit. For now, make sure you have a big bag of ice and several 4'' and 6'' wide Ace bandages, and you'll have most injuries covered.
Q: l play right field for my MSBL team, usually for three innings a week, and I don't wear a cup. The centerfielder says I should, but it's too hot and itchy. What do you think?
A:To quote a famous Boston pitcher, "l don't read the sports section without a cup.” You never know what will fall off the breakfast table. Do you know of any pain in our male repertoire of pains that can match the torment of that particular glandular crisis? This is pain with a capital "P”-- an agony that begins in the groin, climbs into the bottom of your intestines, and proceeds to spread insidiously across your abdomen to the pit of your stomach, bathing you in a wave of nausea that makes you wish you could be merely seasick instead. Unlike most pains, this one stays for awhile, has a few beers and watches a game before leaving. And that's not the end of it: After you've dried the tears from your eyes and ascended from your knees, you notice your teammates are also in tears--tears of laughter. They may be standing with their legs crossed and their hands on their cups, but they're still laughing. So, get a cup and wear it!
ABOUT Herb McReynolds
Dr. Herb McReynolds founded the Tucson MSBL and served as its president from 1989 to 1991. He is a former member of the MSBL National Board of Directors and was inducted into the MSBL World Series Hall of Fame in 2009.