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ARTICLE: “Muscle Imbalances and The Throwing Athlete”

Each spring and summer our sporting thoughts turn to those of the throwing athlete and the sports associated with this time of year. One of the most specific and often missed causes of injuries to the throwing athlete includes the problem of muscle imbalance and the failure to recognize the importance of muscle balance in this type of activity. Muscle balance is a complex concept including factors of strength, endurance and muscle length all working together to allow smooth and pain free motion. In the throwing athlete, muscle balancing is extremely important as the velocities, repetitions and speed all magnify the effects that an imbalance will have on the shoulder girdle and arm. An example of a muscle imbalance would be the pitcher who in the off season trains in the weight room building up the pectorals, latissimus and deltoids while neglecting the rotator cuff, mid back and spinal extensors/shoulder blade stabilizers. This athlete, though he has developed significant power and strength in the large throwing muscles has neglected to refine the function of the rotator cuff and the postural stabilizers. Thus when this athlete begins throwing often valuable speed and power is lost due to this neglect. For example, neglecting the muscles which stabilize the shoulder blade is a critical mistake for throwing athletes as these muscles of the shoulder blade are the connection between the arm and the body. The shoulder blade is free floating as is the shoulder which has only one small joint connection to the body. Therefore, it is critical that the muscles which stabilize the shoulder blade be full of power and endurance to ensure that the prime movers (muscles) can provide the best leverage possible. If the foundation of the shoulder, the shoulder blade is not stable there is no fulcrum around which movement can occur. Additionally, if the mid back and muscles which decelerate the arm are not in balance with those that accelerate the arm, the athlete can be at risk for injury secondary to these large muscles overpowering and damaging the imbalanced muscles. Therefore, if the pectorals, triceps, lats and wrist flexors are hugely powerful and blazingly fast, it does absolutely no good without the deceleratory safety of the posterior muscle groups, scapular stabilizers which control the “whipping” action which occurs during terminal throwing motions. Speed specific training of both sets of groups is also critical to optimize the athletes performance and we have discussed this previously.


For more information on proximal stabilization and sports specific training principles for the throwing athlete, do not hesitate to contact our clinic

Mark McDonald, PT OCS

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