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.

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About Ken Krause

Ken Krause has been coaching girls fastpitch softball for nearly 20 years. Some may know him as a contributing columnist to Softball Magazine, where he writes Krause's Korner -- a regular column sponsored by Louisville Slugger. Ken is also the Administrator of the Discuss Fastpitch Forum, the most popular fastpitch discussion forum on the Internet. He is currently a Three Star Master Coach with the National Fastpitch Coaches Association (NFCA), and is certified by both the Amateur Softball Association (ASA) and American Sports Education Program (ASEP). Ken is a private instructor specializing in pitchers, hitters, and catchers. He teaches at North Shore Baseball Academy in Libertyville, IL and Pro-Player Consultants in McHenry, IL.

Posted on February 10, 2009, in Pitching. Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. Ken,I agree with you 100%. Snapping the pitching arm up to touch the shoulder is detrimental to the body and also pitch velocity. The long loose release helps with relaxation and control.

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  2. I’ve also noticed that most kids who are taught to do it have to force themselves to do it. They finish long and loose, then add that extra snap up because they’re “supposed to.” Kids, your bodies are telling you something. Listen to them!

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  3. The old bend your elbow and touch your shoulder follow through is just that OLD. Men were the first to play fast pitch softball and this meant using arm strength over full body strength, which is where it began. A relaxed follow through in the direction you are throwing the ball makes much more sense. I’ve seen too many young pitchers throwing the ball over the back stop, while bending their arms. I’m convinced that a straight relaxed, long follow through, in the direction of the pitch, is safer and more accurate.

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  4. That is THE FIRST thing i end up telling a new girl in her first lesson “stop snapping your elbow up”.I too prefer the long loose follow through and even prefer that if they want to touch something touch the earlobe on the otherside of their head from their pitching arm, esp. if they are spinning the ball.

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  5. Yeah, it’s amazing that anyone still teaches that stuff. But they do. The only good thing is it makes it easy to show improvement early on — by getting them to stop!

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  6. To anyone who shows the least little bit of resistance to stopping the straight up “show them your elbow” finish I ask them how many pitchers throwing over hand would forcefully follow through by bringing their pitching hand straight down, and btw how many throw overhand with the hip on the throwing side closing the same time as the arm passes the body? lol

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