Low Back Injury and the Rotational Athlete

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PROTECTING LOW BACK INJURY: Mechanics and Training

As we are approaching the season, the amount of rotation that the baseball athlete will encounter increases a ton. Bullpens and extra swings in the cage are going to add up in your training volume.

Rotational athletes, specifically baseball players, mostly rotate to one side repeatedly. The 30+ evaluations I have done in the past couple of months show me that throwers and hitters rotate very well to one side. Duh.

However, these same athletes also noticed that it’s very difficult to rotate towards the other side. But why?

Due to the one-sided nature of the sport, the body is prone to asymmetry. I would much rather have a kid who throws from one side and hits from the other. Your body will thank you later in the season.

Rotation happens in two planes of motion: frontal and transverse (in that order). Within this transverse plane, there are 3 subsystems that attribute to rotation.

These systems include the passive system (ligaments), musculotendinous system (muscles and tendons), and the neural system (electrical system) [1].

If you want to stay at the top as a baseball player, you have to hit multiple aspects of training. One important one in this matter is injury prevention. You can’t show everyone how great you are if you’re sitting on the bench.


Mechanics

The body is allowed to rotate. However, it can also over-rotate. Just like any other powerful movement in the body, there are two end ranges.

Being strong across the entire spectrum of movement will decrease your risk on injury. Therefore, performing drills at both end-ranges of rotation are important to increase tissue strength and resiliency.

During the throw, the trunk must flex forward at ball release to allow the body to safely rotate and absorb force.

This added trunk flexion allows for the lumbar spine (low back) to further rotate in order for the musculotendinous unit to be the primary driver of rotation, rather from the passive system.

Research shows that strength deficiencies in the erector spinae and transverse abdominus can lead to chronic low back pain or acute low back injury [1].

However, performing exercises in isolation to strengthen these specific muscles won’t really help you get strong in the transverse plane. It’s important to train in all planes of motion, and with the body moving through multiple planes of motion when performing exercises.


Training

Every action has an equal and opposite reaction. Remember physics?

Rotational power production happens for the co-contraction of other muscle groups. The amount of rotational strength that you have should match the amount of anti-rotational strength you have.

If you are unable to resist rotational forces with the co-contraction of your core musculature and other trunk muscles, you’re asking for trouble.

Therefore, anti-rotational training is just as important as rotational training.

On the other hand, if you’re unable to produce thoracic rotation, the other production will come from the lumbar spine.

Multiple studies have reported that athletes with low back pain have a lack of hip rotation.

As a baseball athlete, your hips are your livelihood. Muscular endurance of the core and trunk are just as important, if not more important, than strength or power in the reduction of low back injury [1].

Training for rotational sport involves 2 factors: increasing spinal stability and hip mobility. However, a certain degree of thoracic rotation mobility is needed as well to be a successful baseball player.

Stay healthy,

Jarad Vollkommer


Reference

Gillies, A., and Dorgo, S. (2013). Preventing lumbar injuries in rotational striking athletes. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 35(2), 55-62.


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