Take care of your arm to prevent injury

Occasionally I like to bring in a guest writer to provide another viewpoint or in this case, the expertise of a professional.   Today’s guest blogger is Bryon Renwand, PT, DPT, CSCS. 

First, allow me to introduce myself.  My name is Bryon Renwand anphotod I am a physical therapist practicing in the Toledo, Ohio area. I work with patients who have orthopedic injuries, as well as post-operative orthopedic surgeries. I have a passion for working with athletes, specifically baseball players and those in other overhead throwing sports.  I was excited when Betsy approached me to be a guest blogger.

She has asked me to begin with the shoulder, since she and many other pickleball players have experienced shoulder injuries.  I will combine my passion and the similarities of throwing and racket sports, to recommend a general exercise program for you to improve arm strength and shoulder stability.

First, I had to familiarize myself with pickleball. When comparing pickleball to baseball, a few things stick out:

  •  There isn’t nearly as much overhead demand in pickleball as there is in baseball, but enough to require proper conditioning.
  •  In both sports, the arm is placed in a vulnerable position to accommodate this overhead demand.
  • The backhand volley in pickleball is a motion you rarely would see in baseball.

Because of the stress placed throughout the arm in pickleball, the PT in me says an athlete should be doing some type of training to maintain good arm health and strength. I have never played pickleball myself, but while watching matches I can see a potential for shoulder, elbow, and wrist injuries if the arm is not strengthened properly.  The shoulder is often put in a position requiring significant external/internal rotation demands, which can lead to rotator cuff injuries, possibly labral injuries, and instability. The elbow is constantly moving and combined with wrist extension during the backhand, this leaves the possibility for a tennis elbow injury, and/or biceps triceps muscle strains.

The good news is there is a set of exercises called the “Thrower’s 10” that was developed for baseball players to maintain shoulder/arm strength and scapular stability.  A quick Google search of “Thrower’s 10” will give you multiple pdfs and video’s explaining the exercises. These exercises will benefit the pickleball player as well.

  •  Side note: The exercise referred to as “scaption” often has the individual performing this with the thumb down or “empty can” position. I recommend performing this exercise with the thumb up or “full can” position to reduce impingement of the shoulder.

In addition to the Throwers 10 exercises, I would add the use of a rowing machine or resistance bands to further improve scapular strength.  Grip strengthening exercises, such as squeezing a rolled towel will improve forearm muscle strength in order to reduce fatigue with gripping a paddle.  See the following illustrations.

rowingshoulder strengthhand towel

Traditionally, strengthening is done for 1-3 sets with 6-12 repetitions in each set. My suggestion to athletes who compete regularly in overhead or repetitive movement sports, is to increase the number of repetitions.  A pitcher will throw nearly 150 pitches in a competition when you combine warm up pitches, between inning pitches and game pitches.  Similarly, in pickleball you will hit many shots in each game, multiplied by the number of games you play throughout the day.

With that in mind, my recommendation is to prepare these muscles for greater endurance. I suggest doing 2-3 sets of 15-20 repetitions each set.  You may not be able to do this many repetitions in the beginning, but it is something to work towards. Completing this routine 2-3 times per week will better prepare your shoulder/arm for competition and help prevent injury.

Good luck and please feel free to email me if you have any questions. I can be reached at Bryon.Renwand@gmail.com.

Note: you should not have pain with any of these movements or with any new exercise routine.  If you have any concerns please consult a physician.

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