There seems to be a good understanding in most baseball and softball circles of what to do before throwing or pitching to decrease the risk of injury. The number of teams I now see utilizing band work, weighted baseballs, and challenging dynamic warm-ups has increased the past few years which means the information is funneling down to coaches. However, what seems to be lacking is an understanding of what to do AFTER throwing or pitching to decrease the risk of injury. When my baseball team plays at other schools who have a trainer on-site, our pitchers are almost always offered ice after the game for their arms which shows that post-throwing recovery is not well understood even by some athletic trainers. So, if we shouldn’t be icing what should we be doing?
Throwing is a high intensity activity which places strenuous demands on the body, therefore, having a successful recovery protocol is imperative for your body to perform at its best day in and day out. We don’t want to ice because ice will slow the recovery process down, and we also don’t want to add stress to the arm with high intensity arm exercises because this will place further stress on the arm. Instead, the first thing that we should focus on is mobility exercises. After throwing overhead, it is common to lose shoulder flexion and shoulder internal rotation so we should start with low intensity shoulder flexion and shoulder internal rotation exercises. My go-to are shoulder controlled articular rotations. This places little demand on the joints and will not fatigue the muscles further while stimulating blood flow for recovery.
The second recommendation I would have is to perform some type of cool down activity that is similar to your dynamic warm up. Again, we don’t want to go too intense here because that will only create more stress from which the body has to recover from. This is simply used to jump-start the recovery process with some striders, single leg RDLs, lunges, etc. that also incorporates some mobility-based movements for the lower extremities. This cool down is your way of telling your body that it is now time to start healing by quieting the mind and decreasing cortisol (stress hormone) levels. Another option for this would be to use an electrical muscle stimulation device which has shown to improve recovery and decrease delayed onset muscle soreness.
After completing a mobility and cool down routine I recommend getting some more fluids and protein in the body. This is especially important after a high pitch count or on a hot day. Stay away from caffeinated beverages as those will further dehydrate you. A simple water and a protein source with some salt in it is really all you need. This will give you the fuel your body demands to assist with the process of recovery. Beef jerky, nuts, or a protein bar are great options.
In addition to these immediate post-throwing protocols there are some things you can do throughout your training to help with recovery as well. I always recommend a high amount of sleep every night (at least 8 hours), a consistent weight-lifting program, and regular soft tissue mobilization from a provider. Doing these things will increase your performance as well as your rate of recovery and cannot be overstated by their importance if you are serious about staying on the field and playing at your best. If you are having pain or an unusual amount of soreness after throwing, please see a provider to get assessed and treated.