Pitching + touching your shoulder = elbow pain
For a couple of years now I have been talking to pitchers and their parents about the dangers of forcing the hand to come up and touch the shoulder on the follow-through. I had heard from reliable sources (Cheri Kempf among others) how this movement put unnecessary stress on the ligaments of the elbow and could lead to elbow pain. Made sense to me, especially when I tried the movement myself.
Yet I have seen that move being taught by other pitching coaches. When I’ve done clinics and such I’ve had kids telling me “but my other pitching coach said I should do that.” Thankfully the other pitching coach didn’t tell them to jump off a bridge too.
I think the “logic” behind touching the shoulder is to try and get the pitcher not to stop her hand at her side, which is a good thing. But in touching your shoulder with your fingers after throwing you’re just trading one problem for another. And in this case, trading a performance problem for a health one.
All of that was pretty much theoretical, however, until this past week. I now have direct evidence of the dangers of “snapping up” and touching the shoulder instead of following through long and loose.
The first incident was with one of my top students. She had picked up a habit of pulling her hand straight up to snap the ball out — sort of like doing arm curls with a dumbbell. I’d told her to follow through long, but she couldn’t break the habit. Last week she came to her lesson with an elbow brace on. She’d developed a lot of pain in her elbow and hurt to pitch. After a long, slow warm-up she wanted to try pitching the full distance. I told her to work on following through long and loose instead of pulling her hand up. By the end of the lesson she was throwing full speed, harder than before, and pain-free. She was amazed that it could feel so good after hurting so much. But that’s the power of a proper finish.
Today I was talking to the father of another student who was comparing what I had taught his daughter to what her old coach had taught her. He said with his method (touching the shoulder) her elbow always hurt, sometimes to the point of tears. Since coming to me and learning to finish long and loose instead of touching her shoulder, she was pain-free.
Now, I know two is hardly a scientific sample. But two on top of other evidence I’ve heard is pretty clear. If you are a pitcher (or you have a daughter who is one) and you’re being told to touch your shoulder to finish the pitch, you are putting your health at risk. My advice would be to stop that immediately, and find another coach if necessary. There are a lot of good and proper ways to finish the follow-through. Stressing your elbow isn’t one of them.