Home Posts tagged "Tommy John Surgery" (Page 3)

Should Pitching Coaches Understand Research Methods and Functional Anatomy?

Quite some time ago, I met a pitching coach who made a bold statement to me:

"Most Major League pitchers have terrible mechanics."

I don't know if he meant that they were mechanics that could lead to injuries, or simply mechanics that would interfere with control and velocity development, but either way, I shrugged it off.  Why?

Their mechanics are so terrible that they're in the top 0.0001% of people on the planet who play their sport.  And, they're paid extremely well to be terrible, I suppose.

Kidding aside, this comment got me to thinking about something that's been "festering" for years now, and I wanted to run it by all of you today to get your impressions on it.  In other words, this post won't be about me ranting and raving about how things should be, but rather me starting a dialogue on one potential way to get the baseball development industry to where it needs to be, as it clearly isn't there yet (as evidenced by the fact that more pitchers are getting hurt nowadays than ever before).

The way I see it, mechanics are typically labeled as "terrible" when a pitcher has:

1. Trouble throwing strikes

2. Pitching velocity considerably below what one would expect, given that pitcher's athleticism

3. Pain when throwing

4. Mechanical issues that theoretically will predispose him to injury 

In the first three cases, anyone can really make these observations.  You don't need to be trained in anything to watch the walk totals pile up, read a radar gun, or listen when a pitcher says, "It hurts."  Moreover, these issues are easier to coach because they are very measurable; pitchers cut down on their walks, throw harder, and stop having pain.

Issue #4 is the conundrum that has lead to thousands of pissing matches among pitching coaches.  When a pitcher gets hurt, everyone becomes an armchair quarterback.  The two biggest examples that come to mind are Mark Prior and Stephen Strasburg.

Prior was supposed to be one of the best of all-time before shoulder surgeries derailed his career.  After the fact, everyone was quick to pin all the issues on his mechanics.  What nobody has ever brought to light is that over the course of nine years, his injuries looked like the following (via Wikipedia):

1. Hamstrings strain (out for 2002 season)
2. Shoulder injury (on-field collision - missed three starts in 2003)
3. Achilles injury (missed two months in 2004)
4. Elbow strain (missed 15 days in 2004)
5. Elbow injury (missed one month in 2005 after being hit by line drive)
6. Rotator cuff strain (missed three months in 2006)
7. Oblique strain (missed two starts in 2006)
8. Rotator cuff strain (ended 2006 season on disabled list)
9. Shoulder surgery (missed entire 2007 season, and first half of 2008)
10. Shoulder capsule tear (out for season after May 2008)
11. Groin injury (missed last two months of 2011 season)

By my count, that is eleven injuries - but four of them were non-arm-related.  And, two of them (both early in his career) were contact injuries.  Who is to say that he isn't just a guy with a tendency toward degenerative changes on a systemic level?  How do we know one of the previous injuries didn't contribute to his arm issues later on?  How do we know what he did for preventative arm care, rehabilitation, throwing, and strength and conditioning programs? We don't have his medical records from earlier years to know if there were predisposing factors in place, either.  I could go on and on.

The issue is that our sample size is one (Mark Prior) because you'll never see this exact collection of issues in any other player again.  It's impossible to separate out all these factors because all issues are unique.  And, it's one reason why you'll never see me sitting in the peanut gallery criticizing some teams for having injured players; we don't have sufficient information to know exactly why a player got hurt - and chances are, the medical staff on those teams don't even have all the information they'd like to have, either.

Strasburg has been labeled the best prospect of all-time by many, and rightfully so; his stuff is filthy and he's had the success to back it up.  Of course, the second he had Tommy John surgery, all the mechanics nazis came out of their caves and started berating the entire Washington Nationals organization for not fixing the issue (an Inverted W) proactively to try to prevent the injury.  Everybody is Johnny Brassballs on the internet.

To that end, I'll just propose the following questions:

1. Did Strasburg not do just fine with respect to issues 1-3 in my list above?

2. Would you want to be the one to screw with the best prospect of all-time and potentially ruin exactly what makes him effective?

3. Do we really know what the health of his elbow was when the Nationals drafted him?

4. Do we know what his arm care, throwing, and strength and conditioning programs were like before and after being drafted?

There are simply too many questions one can ask with any injury, and simply calling mechanics the only contributing factor does a complex issue a disservice - especially since young athletes are growing up with more and more physical dysfunction even before they have mastered their "mature" mechanics.

The Inverted W theory is incredibly sound; Chris O'Leary did a tremendous job of making his case - and we certainly work to coach throwers out of this flaw - but two undeniable facts remain.  First, a lot of guys still throw with the Inverted W and don't have significant arm issues (or any whatsoever).  They may have adequate mobility and stability in the right places (more on this below) to get by, or perhaps they have just managed their pitch counts and innings appropriately to avoid reaching threshold.  I suspect that you might also find that many of these throwers can make up for this "presumed fault" with a quick arm combined with a little extra congenital ligamentous laxity, or subtle tinkering with some other component of their timing.

Second, a lot of guys who don't have an Inverted W still wind up with elbow or shoulder injuries. Good research studies bring issues like these to light, and nobody has really gotten a crew of inverted W guys and non-inverted W guys together to follow injury rates over an extended period of time while accounting for variables such as training programs, pitch counts, and pitch selection (e.g., sliders vs. curveballs). We don't know if some of these other factors are actually more problematic than the mechanics themselves, as it's impossible to control all these factors simultaneously in a research format.

As such, here we have my first set of questions:

Don't you think that pitching coaches need to make a dedicated effort to understand research methods so that they can truly appreciate the multifactorial nature of injuries?  And, more importantly, wouldn't learning to read research help them to understand which mechanical issues are the true problem?  

The Inverted W is certainly an issue, but there are many more to keep in mind. Just my opinion: I think the baseball industry would be much better off if pitching coaches read a lot more research.

Now, let's move on to my second question.  First, though, I want to return to the Inverted W example again. I have not met more than a few pitching coaches who can explain exactly what structures are affected by this mechanical flaw because they don't understand what functionally is taking place at the shoulder and elbow.  They don't understand that excessive glenohumeral (shoulder) horizontal abduction, extension, and external rotation can all lead to anterior glide of the humerus, creating more anterior instability and leading to injuries to the anterior glenohumeral ligaments and labrum.  Meanwhile, the biceps tendon picks up the slack as a crucial anterior stabilizer.  They also don't appreciate how these issues are exacerbated by poor rotator cuff function and faulty scapular stabilization patterns.  And, they don't appreciate that these issues are commonly present even in throwers who don't demonstrate an Inverted W pattern.

At the elbow, they also can't explain why, specifically, the Inverted W can lead to problems. They don't understand that the timing issue created by the "deep" set-up leads to greater valgus stress at lay-back because the arm lags.  They can't explain why some players have medial issues (UCL injuries, ulnar nerve irritation, flexor/pronator strains, and medial epicondyle stress fractures) while other players have lateral issues (little league elbow, osteochondritis dissecans of radial capitellum) from the same mechanical flaws.  They can't explain why a slider thrown from an Inverted W position would be more harmful than a curveball.

I can explain it to you - and I can explain it to my athletes so that they understand, too. I've also met a lot of medical professionals who can clearly outline how and why these structures are injured, but we aren't the ones coaching the pitchers on the mounds.  The pitching coaches are the ones in those trenches.

To that end, I propose my second set of questions:

Don't you think pitching coaches ought to make an effort to learn functional anatomy in order to understand not just what gets injured, but how those injuries occur?  Wouldn't it give them a more thorough understanding of how to manage their pitchers, from mechanical tinkering, to pitch selection, to throwing volume?  And, wouldn't it give them a more valid perspective from which to contribute to pitchers' arm care programs in conjunction with rehabilitation professionals and strength and conditioning coaches? 

The problem with just saying "his mechanics suck" is that it amounts to applying a theory to a sample size of one.  That's not good research.  Additionally, this assertion is almost always taking place without a fundamental understanding of that pitcher's functional anatomy.  It amounts to coaching blind.

To reiterate, this was not a post intended to belittle anyone, but rather to bring to light two areas in which motivated pitching coaches could study extensively in order to really separate themselves from the pack.  Additionally, I believe wholeheartedly in what Chris O'Leary put forth with his Inverted W writings; I just used it as one example of a mechanical flaw that must be considered as part of a comprehensive approach to managing pitchers.

With that said, I'd love to hear your opinions on these two sets of questions in the comments section below. Thanks in advance for your contributions.

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 3/27/12

Here are some recommended strength and conditioning readings for the week: Recovery: Athlete vs. Average Joe - Patrick Ward summarized some great research on how it takes a lot more to negatively impact performance when you reduce the outside stress in one's life. Force of Habit - This article by Lindsay Berra just ran in ESPN The Magazine.  Lindsay interviewed me for the piece on Tommy John surgery (ulnar collateral ligament reconstruction), and while I wasn't mentioned in the final version, I thought she did an outstanding job of outlining some complex topics - everything from the mechanics to the politics - in the piece. 21 Strength Exercises for Injury-Free Mass - Bret Contreras provides some great options - and the rationale for them - for those looking to make their strength training programs a little more joint-friendly over the long-term. Sign-up Today for our FREE Newsletter and receive a four-part video series on how to deadlift!
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Baseball Strength and Conditioning Programs: How Much Rotator Cuff Work is Too Much? – Part 1

In a recent presentation in front of a bunch of baseball coaches, I made the following statement - and it turned a lot of heads:

I think most people overtrain the rotator cuff nowadays, and they do so with the wrong exercises, anyway.

To illustrate my point, I'm going to ask a question:

Q: What is the most common complication you see in guys as they rehabilitate following a Tommy John Surgery?

A: Shoulder problems - generally right around the time they get up to 120 feet.

Huh?  Shoulder pain is a post-operative complication of an elbow surgery?  What gives?

First, I should make a very obvious point: many of these guys deal with shoulder stiffness as they get back to throwing simply because they've been shut down for months.  That I completely expect - but remember that it's stiffness, and not pain.  They always throw their way out of it.

The more pressing issue is what is taking place in their rehabilitation - and more specifically, what's taking place with the synergy between their rehabilitation and throwing program. Let me explain.

Rehabilitation following a UCL reconstruction is extensive.  While different physical therapists certainly have different approaches, it will always be incredibly heavy on rotator cuff strength and timing, as well as adequate function of the scapular stabilizers.  Guys always make huge strides on this front during rehab, but why do so many have shoulder pain when they get further out with their long tossing?  The answer is very simple:

Most people don't appreciate that throwing a baseball IS rotator cuff training.

Your cuff is working tremendously hard to center the humeral head in the glenoid fossa.  It controls excessive external rotation and anterior instability during lay-back.

It's fighting against distraction forces at ball release.

And, it's controlling internal rotation and horizontal adduction during follow-through.

Simultaneously, the scapular stabilizers are working incredibly hard to appropriately position and stabilize the scapula on the rib cage in various positions so that it can provide an ideal anchor point for those rotator cuff muscles to do their job.

A post-op Tommy John thrower - and really every player going through a throwing program - has all the same demands on his arm (even if he isn't on the mound, where stress is highest).  And, as I wrote previously in a blog about why pitchers shouldn't throw year-round, every pitcher is always throwing with some degree of muscle damage at all times during the season (or a throwing program).

Keeping this in mind, think about the traditional Tommy John rehabilitation approach.  It is intensive work for the cuff and scapular stabilizers three times a week with the physical therapists - plus many of the same exercises in a home program for off-days.  They're already training these areas almost every day - and then they add in 3-6 throwing sessions a week.  Wouldn't you almost expect shoulder problems?  They are overusing it to the max!  This is a conversation I recently had with physical therapist Eric Schoenberg, and he made another great point:

Most guys - especially at higher levels - don't have rotator cuff strength issues; they have rotator cuff timing issues.

In throwing - the single-fastest motion in all of sports - you're better off having a cuff that fires at the right time than a cuff that fires strong, but late.  Very few rotator cuff exercise programs for healthy pitchers take that into account; rather, it's left to those doing rehabilitation.  Likewise, most of the programs I see altogether ignore scapular stability and leave out other ways to train the cuff that are far more functional than just using bands.

Now, apply this example back to the everyday management of pitchers during the season. Pitchers are throwing much more aggressively: game appearances, bullpens, and long toss.  They need to do some rotator cuff work, but it certainly doesn't need to be every day like so many people think.

I'll cover how much and what kind in Part 2.  In the meantime, if you'd like to learn more about the evaluation and management of pitchers, check out Optimal Shoulder Performance.

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Experience Doesn’t Come Easily When It Comes to Strength and Conditioning Programs

As I sat down to write this blog, I recalled a quote I heard some time ago, but only with a quick Google search did I discover that it came from Pete Seeger: "Do you know the difference between education and experience? Education is when you read the fine print; experience is what you get when you don't." Seeger might be in his 90s and done singing, this quote definitely still resounds - and will continue to do so - in the field of strength and conditioning, even if that wasn't his intention. I think one of the reasons it gets us thinking so much is that there really isn't a lot of fine print to read; the strength and conditioning field is still in its infancy, especially since there was very little research in this area before the 1980s.  And, just when we think we learn something and publish it in the textbook, we discover that it's completely false (the lactic acid debacle was a great example).   Moreover, we're dealing with constantly changing demographics; as examples, obesity is rising dramatically, and early youth sports specialization is destroying kids' bodies and fundamentally changing the way that they develop (examples here and here).

So, it's hard to learn how to do things the right way (or at least head in that direction) when the information wasn't available - and the population to which it applies is constantly changing.  It's like trying to change the tire on a moving car - and doing so without having instructions on how to use the jack in the first place. Moreover, even when the information is out there, we appreciate that no two people respond to the same stimulus in the same way - and my experiences with baseball players with elbow pain serves as a great example.  I've seen dozens of post Tommy John surgery athletes in my career.  Some start throwing before the three-month mark, and others aren't throwing until six months post-op.  Everyone heals differently - and even once they get back to throwing, every guy is unique.  Some have more shoulder stiffness than elbow stiffness after the long layoff, where it might be vice versa for other guys.  Additionally, many post ulnar nerve transposition pitchers have a lot of elbow stiffness when they return to throwing at 6-12 weeks post-op, while others have absolutely zero complications with their return-to-throwing progression.

If the game is changing, and we never really knew what the game was in the first place - and each person is unique, what do we do?

The only thing we can do is draw on personal experience and the lessons that it's provided to us.

To that end, if you're an up-and-comer in the field, you have to look at continuing education as a multi-pronged approach.  You've got to read the textbooks and stay on top of the most up-to-date research, but you also have to be "in the trenches" to test-drive concepts and see how they work. If you're not in the industry - but want to make sure that you're getting the best possible strength and conditioning programs - you need to seek out expert advice from someone who has "been there, done that."  Honestly would you want to be on the table for a surgeon's first surgery? I know I wouldn't. A final option, at the very least, is to educate yourself fully on how to write your own workout routines. That's one reason why I created two free webinars for you: The #1 Reason You Are Not Making Progress and How to Create a Real Strength and Conditioning Program. You can check them both out HERE at absolutely no charge.  I'd just ask that you help spread the word with a Facebook "like" or comment or "Tweet" if you enjoyed what you saw.

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What an Elbow Alone Can Tell You About Strength and Conditioning Program Design (Part 2)

Today marks Part 2 of this mini-series covering just how much you can learn from looking at an elbow before writing up a strength and conditioning program.  In Part 1, we talked about what can be learned from our first potential scenario, elbow hyperextension.  Today, we'll focus on the lessons to be learned from three more scenarios. Full Elbow Extension, Muscular End-Feel - This simply means that you have all your extension and no "empty" end feel; it eases to muscular stretch (of the elbow flexors).

This is probably the most common presentation pattern in the general population, and you can generally expect these folks to respond to need equal amounts of mobility and stability training.  More thorough assessments will give you more information on where to focus your efforts.

Incomplete Elbow Extension, Bony End-Feel - These are, in many cases, guys who did not get full elbow extension back following a surgical procedure.  Or, it may just be someone with bone spurs on the underside of the joint that interferes with elbow extension.

It's a bold assumption to make, but these individuals are almost always (in my experience) athletes who have profound limitations in other regions, as poor glenohumeral mobility, rotator cuff function, scapular stabilization, thoracic spine mobility, and terrible tissue quality can all contribute to these kind of issues presenting at the elbow.  So, when I see and feel an elbow this "gross," I usually know that I have my work cut out for me.  Generally, these guys wind up needing a hearty dose of mobility training, soft tissue work, breathing drills, and longer duration static stretching. That said, with respect to the elbow itself, these guys need to be cognizant of maintaining every little bit they have.  If you've got a 10° elbow extension deficit because of bony changes, you can probably get by.  However, if you allow that 10° to become 30° because you pile soft tissue shortness/stiffness on top of it, you could be waiting for some serious problems to come around.  To that end, I always encourage these guys to get routine soft tissue work and plenty of static stretching in to maintain whatever elbow extension they still have. Incomplete Elbow Extension, Muscular End-Feel - These guys look very much like our previous category, but the end-feel has much more "give" to it; it's not a "concrete-on-concrete" end-feel.  This is a very good thing, as you know you can work to get it back.  This athlete, for instance, got 15° of elbow extension back in a matter of a few minutes following a Graston treatment with our manual therapist and some follow-up stretching.

I wouldn't expect him to maintain 100% of those improvements from treatment to treatment, but over the course of 3-4 bouts, he should get to where he needs to be. Expect to see some of the same things with the rest of the body, as elbow extension deficits rarely occur in isolation.  In throwers, they're usually accompanied by poor glenohumeral internal rotation on the throwing side, poor hip internal rotation on the front leg, and a host of other stiffness/shortness issues.  In the general population, you see them in people who are locked up all over - especially in people who sit at computers all day long. That wraps up our look at four elbow presentation patterns and what they may mean for your strength and conditioning programs and corrective exercise approaches.  For more information, check out the Everything Elbow In-Service, an affordably priced 32-minute in-service where half of all proceeds go to charity.

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Pitching Injuries: It’s Not Just What You’re Doing; It’s What You’ve Already Done

A while back, this article on pitching injuries became the single-most popular piece in EricCressey.com history:

Your Arm hurts?  Thank Your Little League, Fall Ball, and AAU Coaches

In that feature, I made the following statement:

We can do all the strength training, mobility work, and soft tissue treatments in the world and it won’t matter if they’re overused – because I’m just not smart enough to have figured out how to go back in time and change history. Worried about whether they’re throwing curveballs, or if their mechanics are perfect?  It won’t matter if they’ve already accumulated too many innings.

While athletes might be playing with fire each time they throw, the pain presentation pattern is different.  You burn your hand, and you know instantly.  Pitching injuries take time to come about. Maybe you do microscopic damage to your ulnar collateral ligament each time you throw – and then come back and pitch again before it’s had time to fully regenerate.  Or, maybe you ignore the shoulder internal rotation deficit and scapular dyskinesis you’ve got and it gets worse and worse for years – until you’re finally on the surgeon’s table for a labral and/or rotator cuff repair.  These issues might be managed conservatively if painful during the teenage years (or go undetected if no pain is present) – but once a kid hits age 18 or 19, it seems to automatically become “socially acceptable” to do an elbow or shoulder surgery.

Sure enough, just yesterday, reader Paul Vajdic sent me this article from the Shreveport Times. The author interviews world-renowned orthopedic surgeon Dr. James Andrews about the crazy increase in the number of Tommy John surgeries he'd performed over the past decade.

A comment he made really jumped out at me, in light of my point from above:

""I had a kid come in, a 15-year-old from Boca Raton, (Fla.), who tore his ligament completely in two,' Andrews said. 'The interesting thing is when I X-rayed his elbow with good magnification, he has a little calcification right where the ligament attaches to the bone. We're seeing more of that now. He actually got hurt with a minor pull of the ligament when he was 10, 11, 12 years of age. That little calcification gets bigger and, initially, it won't look like anything but a sore elbow. As that matures, it becomes more prominent. It turns into an English pea-size bone piece and pulls part of the ligament off when they're young.'"

In other words, it takes repeated bouts of microtrauma over the course of many years to bring an athlete to threshold - even if they have little to no symptoms along the way.  Injury prevention starts at the youngest ages; otherwise, you're just playing from behind the 8-ball when you start training high school and college players.

In addition to walking away with the perspective that young kids need to be strictly managed with their pitch counts, I hope this makes you appreciate the value of strength and conditioning programs at young ages, too.  For more information, check out my post, The Truth About Strength Training for Kids.

We can't prevent them all, but I do think that initiatives like the IYCA High School Strength Coach Certification in conjunction with pitch count implementation and coaching education are a step in the right direction.

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Weight Training for Baseball: Featured Articles

I really enjoy writing multi-part features here at EricCressey.com because it really affords me more time to dig deep into a topic of interest to both my readers and me.  In many ways, it's like writing a book.  Here were three noteworthy features I published in 2010: Understanding Elbow Pain - Whether you were a baseball pitcher trying to prevent a Tommy John surgery or recreational weightlifter with "tennis elbow," this series had something for you. Part 1: Functional Anatomy Part 2: Pathology Part 3: Throwing Injuries Part 4: Protecting Pitchers Part 5: The Truth About Tennis Elbow Part 6: Elbow Pain in Lifters

Strategies for Correcting Bad Posture - This series was published more recently, and was extremely well received.  It's a combination of both quick programming tips and long-term modifications you can use to eliminate poor posture. Strategies for Correcting Bad Posture: Part 1 Strategies for Correcting Bad Posture: Part 2 Strategies for Correcting Bad Posture: Part 3 Strategies for Correcting Bad Posture: Part 4

A New Paradigm for Performance Testing - This two-part feature was actually an interview with Bioletic founder, Dr. Rick Cohen.  In it, we discuss the importance of testing athletes for deficiencies and strategically correcting them.  We've begun to use Bioletics more and more with our athletes, and I highly recommend their thorough and forward thinking services. A New Paradigm for Performance Testing: Part 1 A New Paradigm for Performance Testing: Part 2 I already have a few series planned for 2011, so keep an eye out for them!  In the meantime, we have two more "Best of 2010" features in store before Friday at midnight. Sign-up Today for our FREE Newsletter:
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More Than Just Pitching Mechanics: The Skinny on Stephen Strasburg’s Injury

Since a lot of folks reading this blog know me as "the baseball guy," I got quite a few email questions about the elbow injury Washington Nationals phenom Stephen Strasburg experienced the other day.  Likewise, it was the talk of Cressey Performance last Friday - and got tremendous attention in the media.  Everyone wants to know: how could this have been prevented?

strasburg

On Thursday's edition of Baseball Tonight, my buddy Curt Schilling made some excellent points about Strasburg's delivery that likely contributed to the injury over time.  Chris O'Leary has also written some great stuff about the Inverted W, which is pretty easily visualized in his delivery.

invertedw

The point I want to make, though, is that an injury like this can never, ever, ever, ever be pinned on one factor.  We have seen guys with "terrible mechanics" (I put that in quotes because I don't think there is such a thing as "perfect mechanics") pitch pain-free for their entire careers.  Likewise, we've seen guys with perfect mechanics break down.  We've seen guys with great bodies bite the big one while some guys with terrible bodies thrive.

The point is that while we are always going to strive to clean things up - physically, mechanically, psychologically, and in terms of managing stress throughout the competitive year - there is always going to be some happenstance in sports at a high level.  As former Blue Jays general manager JP Ricciardi told me last week when we chatted at length, "you've only got so many bullets in your arm."

Strasburg used up a lot of those bullets before he ever got drafted, so it's hard to fault the Nationals at all on this front.  In fact, from this ESPN article that was published when the team thought it was a strain of the common flexor tendon and not an ulnar collateral ligament injury (requiring Tommy John surgery), "Strasburg has told the team he had a similar problem in college at San Diego State and pitched through it."  It's safe to assume that the Nationals rule out a partial UCL tear in their pre-draft MRIs, but you have to consider what a common flexor tendon injury really means.

medialepicondyle

As I wrote in in my "Understanding Elbow Pain" series (of interest: Anatomy, Pathology, Throwing Injuries, and Protecting Pitchers) the muscles that combine to form the common flexor tendon are the primary restraints - in addition to the ulnar collateral ligament - to valgus stress.  If they are weak, overused, injured, dense, fibrotic, or whatever else, more of that stress is going on that UCL - particularly if an athlete is throwing with mechanics that may increase that valgus stress (the Inverted W I noted above) - the party is going to end eventually.  Is it any surprise that this acute injury occurred just a few weeks after Strasburg dealt with a shoulder issue that put him on the disabled list for two weeks?  The body is a tremendously intricate system of checks and balances, and it bit him in the butt.

There are other factors, though.  As a great study from Olsen et al. showed, young pitchers who require surgery "significantly more months per year, games per year, innings per game, pitches per game, pitches per year, and warm-up pitches before a game. These pitchers were more frequently starting pitchers, pitched in more showcases, pitched with higher velocity, and pitched more often with arm pain and fatigue. They also used anti-inflammatory drugs and ice more frequently to prevent an injury."  And, they were also taller and heavier.

valgus

Go back through the last 12-15 years of Stephen Strasburg's life and consider just how many times he's ramped up for spring ball, summer ball, fall ball, and showcases - only so that he can shut down for a week, just to ramp right back up again to try to impress someone else.  Think of how many radar guns he's had to pitch in front of constantly for the past 5-7 years - because velocity is all that matters, right?

Stephen Strasburg's injury wasn't caused by a single factor; it was a product of many.  And, it can't be pinned on Strasburg himself, any of his coaches or trainers, or any of the scouts that watched him.  Blame it in the system that is baseball in America today.

We already knew that this system was a disaster, though.  Yet, people still keep letting their kids go to showcases in December.  Heck, arguably the biggest underclassmen prospect event of the year - the World Wood Bat Tournament in Jupiter, FL - takes places at the end of October.  When they should be resting, playing another sport, or preparing their bodies in the weight room, the absolute best prospects in the country are pitching with dead, unprepared arms just because it's a convenient time for scouts and coaches to recruit - because the season is over.

They're wasting their bullets.

Now, I'm not saying that Strasburg's injury could have been avoided in a different system - but I'd be very willing to bet that it could have been pushed much further back - potentially long enough to allow him to get through a career.  An argument to my point would be that if it wasn't for all these exposures, he wouldn't have developed - but my contention to that fact was that it is well documented that Strasburg "blew up" from a good to an extraordinary pitcher with increased throwing velocity when he made a dedicated effort to getting fit when he arrived at college.

My hope is that young pitchers will learn from this example and appreciate that taking care of one's body is just as important as showing off one's talent.

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Ulnar Collateral Ligament Injuries in Quarterbacks vs. Pitchers

Here's an interesting study on the incidence of ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) injuries in professional football quarterbacks.  With only ten reported cases between 1994 and 2008, it's obviously (and not surprisingly) much lower than the rates we see in professional baseball players.  This is right in line with what I discussed in Weighted Baseballs: Safe and Effective or Stupid and Dangerous?

Bengals Seahawks Football However, what is very interesting to me is that 9/10 cases were treated non-operatively; in other words, Tommy John surgery is much less prescribed in football quarterbacks than baseball pitchers - meaning that the quarterbacks respond better to conservative treatment. What's up with that?  They are the same injuries - and presumably the same rehabilitation programs. In my eyes, it's due to the sheer nature of the stress we see in a baseball pitch in comparison to a football throw.  As a quarterback, you can probably "get by" with a slightly insufficient UCL if you have adequate muscular strength, flexibility, and tissue quality.  While this is still the case in some baseball pitchers, the stresses on the passive structure (UCL) are still markedly higher on each throw, meaning that your chances of getting by conservatively are probably slightly poorer.

elbow

I'm sure that the nature of the sporting year plays into this as well.  Football quarterbacks never attempt to throw year-round, so there isn't a rush to return to throwing.  There are, however, a lot of stupid baseball pitchers who think that they can pitch year-round, so kids often "jump the gun" on their throwing programs and make things worse before they can heal completely. That said, we've still worked with a lot of pitchers who have been able to come back and throw completely pain-free after being diagnosed with a partial UCL tear and undergoing conservative treatment (physical therapy).  It's an individual thing. Related Posts Understanding Elbow Pain - Part 3: Throwing Injuries Understanding Elbow Pain - Part 4: Protecting Pitchers Please enter your email below to sign up for our FREE newsletter.
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Three Years of Cressey Performance: The Right Reasons and the Right Way

Though a somewhat "normal" day at the gym, yesterday marked Cressey Performance's three-year anniversary. While my business partner's blog post yesterday did an excellent job of doling out "thank yous" to a lot of the important people who have been so involved in our success - from clients to parents, coaches, interns, and significant others - I wanted to add my own two cents on the matter today.  More than anything, I really wanted to highlight a sentence that illustrates what makes me the most proud about where CP has been, where it is, and where it's going.

We've done this for the right reasons, and we've done it the right way.

newcp21 I read a business development blog post by Chris McCombs the other day where he wrote something that really hit home for me.  When he was talking about how he decides to accept or reject a new project/opportunity, here is one of his guidelines: "Only Take on Projects That Are In Line With My Current Values and Fulfill Me Beyond Just The Money - A project must fulfill me in some way BESIDE just money...too many people spend their life JUST chasing a buck; to me, that's no way to live.  For me, the money must be there, but it should fulfill me personally, be fun, help a lot of people, and build and be in line with my current brand and brand equity." Back in 2007, I had a tough decision to make.  My online consulting business had really taken off, and the Maximum Strength book deal was in the works.  My other products - Magnificent Mobility, The Ultimate Off-Season Training Manual, and Building the Efficient Athlete - were selling well and getting great reviews, and I'd just had a study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research.  This website was growing exponentially in popularity, and I had just wrapped up my first year on the Perform Better tour - so lots of doors were opening for me on the seminar front to present all over the world - and I could have stayed home and just written all day, every day. I was getting really crunched for time, as I was already training clients 8-13 hours per day, seven days per week, as my in-person clientele had rapidly grown. My phone rang off the hook for about three weeks after Lincoln-Sudbury won a baseball state championship after I'd trained several of their guys, and one of my athletes was named state player of the year.  And, after being featured on the front page of the Boston Globe with a nipple so hard I could cut diamonds, I was in demand as a t-shirt model (okay, not really - but it made for an awesome blog post, The School of Hard Nipples).

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I was exhausted and stressed - but absolutely, positively, "living the dream" that I'd always wanted. To make matters a bit more interesting, I had just started dating a great girl (now my fiancee) who I really had a good feeling was "the one" after about three months.  The work days, however, were insanely long and I was worried that I'd screw up a good thing by not spending enough time with her. Every business development coach out there would have seen a "simple" answer to all my problems: stop training people in person.  Just write, consult, make DVDs, and give seminars.  It would have cut my hours by 80% and still allowed me to earn a pretty good living - and enjoy plenty of free time.  There was a huge problem with that, though; as Chris wrote, it wouldn't "fulfill me personally, be fun, help a lot of people, and build and be in line with my current brand and brand equity."  I like doing evaluations, writing programs, coaching, sweating, training with my guys, cranking up the music, helping people get to where they want to be, collaborating with and learning from other professionals, and watching my athletes compete - whether it's at some high school field or at Fenway Park.  Giving that up wasn't an option; I guess I'd have just been a crappy business coaching client, as I would have been stubborn as an ass on giving that up.

stubborn

Fortunately for me, Pete Dupuis, my roommate from my freshman year of college, had just finished his MBA and was in the midst of a job search.  And, during that MBA, he'd started to train with me and packed on a ton of strength and muscle mass - making him realize and truly appreciate the value in what I was doing (especially since he was and is a goalie in a very competitive soccer league).  Pete had also met and become friends with a ton of my clients - and taken a genuine interest in my baseball focus, as a lifelong Red Sox fan.  Almost daily, Pete would encourage me to do my own thing and let him handle all the business stuff for me. Simultaneously, Tony Gentilcore was ready for a change of scenery on the work front.  Having been Tony's roommate and training partner for almost two years at that point, I knew he was a genuinely great guy, that he'd read everything on my bookshelf, and that he could coach his butt off and "walk the walk."  He, too, had met a lot of my clients - so there was continuity from the get-go. So, on July 13, 2007, Cressey Performance was born.  Here is what we started with.

first-picture

Boatloads of renovations and equipment additions later, it wound up looking like this.

cressey-performance-1

Of course, we outgrew and demolished this space after about nine months and moved three miles east to a facility twice the size.  And, we've continued to grow right up to this day; June was our busiest month ever, and July should be busier.  We've got regular weekly clients who come from four states (MA, NH, CT, RI), and in the baseball off-season, I have college and pro guys who come from the likes of OH, AZ, CA, SC, NC, GA, FL, and VA.  And, we had 33 applicants for this summer's internships.

To be very candid, though, I don't consider myself a very good "businessman."  No offense to Pete or Tony, either, but I don't think they even come close to the textbook definition of the word, either.  We just try to be good dudes. "We've done this for the right reasons, and we've done it the right way."

We don't allocate a certain percentage of our monthly revenues to advertising.  In fact, we haven't spent a single penny on advertising - unless you count charitable donations to causes that are of significance to us.

We don't search high and low for new revenue streams to push on our clients.  In fact, if I get one more MonaVie sales pitch, I'm going to suplex whoever delivered it right off our loading dock.  Rather, we bust our butts to set clients up for success in any way possible - and trust that those efforts will lead to referrals and "allegiance" to Cressey Performance.  We ask what they want from us and modify our plans accordingly.  It's what led to us bringing in manual therapy, a pitching cage, and, of course, pitching coach/court jester Matt Blake's timeless antics.

Along those same lines, we don't measure our success based on revenue numbers; we measure it based on client results.  In three years of seeing LOADS of baseball players non-stop, we've only had three arm surgeries: one shoulder and two elbow.  All three were athletes who came to us with existing injuries, and in each case, we kept them afloat as long as we could and trained them through their entire rehabilitation.  I don't want to toot our own horn, but this is a remarkable statistic in a population where over 57% of pitchers suffer some form of shoulder injury during each competitive season - and that doesn't even include  elbows!  And, our statistics don't even count literally dozens of players who have come to us after a doctor has told them they needed surgery, but we've helped them avoid these procedures.  The college scholarships, draft picks, state titles, individual honors, and personal bests in the gym are all fantastic, but I'm most proud of saying that we've dedicated ourselves to keeping athletes healthy so that they can enjoy the sports they love.

The same goes for our non-competitive athlete clients.  The fat loss and strength gains they experience are awesome and quantifiable, but beyond that (and more qualitatively), I love knowing that they're training pain-free and are going to be able to enjoy exercise and reap the benefits of training for a long time.

We don't penny-pinch during our slowest times of the month (late March through mid-May - the high school baseball season).  We see it as an opportunity to do more staff continuing education, renovate the facilities, and get out to watch a lot of baseball and support our athletes.  And, we adjust our hours to open up on Sundays and stay later on weeknights during the baseball season to make it easier for athletes to get in-season training in whenever they can.  If a pitcher wants to come in and get his arm stretched out before or after an outing, he stops by and we do it for him - but don't charge him a penny for it.  It's about setting people up for success.

We don't try to just "factory line" as many clients through our facility as possible with everyone on the same program.  You might walk into CP and see 20 different clients on 20 different programs - because a 16-year old pitcher with crazy congenital laxity is going to have a markedly different set of needs than a 16-year-old linebacker with shoulder mobility so bad that he needs help putting a jacket on.  One program on one dry erase board for hundreds of athletes isn't training; it's babysitting.

Taking this a step further, we don't boot clients out after a certain amount of time.  Clients take as long as needed to complete the day's program. And, when they're done (or before they even begin), loads of our clients spend time hanging out in the office just shooting the breeze and enjoying the environment.  As an example, Toronto Blue Jays Organizational Pitcher of the Year Tim Collins spends a minimum of five hours a day at CP all off-season.

collins_stride

Tim has sold girl scout cookies for the daughter of one of our clients, and he's been our back-up front desk guy when Pete is out of town.  Yesterday, he was back to visit on his all-star break - and he said hello to every client he saw - and remembered them by name.  If you're a 15-year-old up-and-coming baseball pitcher, how cool is it to get that kind of greeting when you walk into the office?  Well, at CP, kids get that greeting from 10-15 pro guys all the time.  And, if they're lucky, they might even get to throw on a bobsled helmet and join these pro guys in a rave to Miley Cyrus, apparently.

At least once a week, I get an email from an up-and-coming coach asking for advice about starting a facility.  When I get these emails, I now think about how Rachel Cosgrove recently mentioned that more than 80% of fitness coaches leave the industry within the first year. In most cases, this happens because these people never should have entered the fitness industry in the first place - because their intentions (money) were all wrong.  They usually leave under the assumption that they could never make a living training people, but in reality, these folks are going to have a hard time making a living in any occupation that requires genuinely caring about what you do and the people with whom you work, and being willing to hang your hat on the results you produce.

ec-bk

As such, the first advice, in a general sense, is obvious: do it for the right reasons, and do it the right way.  Sure, making a living is essential, but only open a facility because it would fulfill you "personally, be fun, help a lot of people, and build and be in line" with who you are and what your values are - which together constitute your "brand." Making the move to start up this business was one of the most daunting decisions I have ever had to make, and all the efforts toward actually getting the business started were equally challenging.  However, in the end, it has been more rewarding both personally and professionally than I could have ever possibly imagined.

Thank you very much to all of you - clients/customers, parents, EricCressey.com readers, seminar attendees, and professional colleagues - for all your support over the past three years.  We couldn't have done it without you - and look forward to many more years of doing things for the right reasons and in the right way.

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