The sport of softball is widely growing in popularity amongst young female athletes. Youth and tournament leagues can be found throughout the region with young girls ranging in ages from 5-18 diving for line drives and swinging for the fences. With this growth in popularity also comes an increase in injury and a growing need to better understand how to properly prevent, rehabilitate, and train the young female athlete to allow for more time on the field.
When it comes to the female athlete many different areas require discussion including body structure, hormonal influences, and neuromuscular control (interaction between nerves and muscle to control specific movements). When compared to males, females have a greater elbow carrying angle (degree to which elbow angulates away from body), decreased muscle mass, decreased grip strength, a wider pelvis, and increased ligament laxity. During puberty, females acquire about ½ of the musculature tissue attained by males and this combined with increased ligament laxity and musculoskeletal growth makes them more prone to injury. Es-sentially, females change in height, weight, and bone length; however they lack the proper muscular develop-ment and neuromuscular adaptations to maintain proper dynamic stability of their joints thus leading to an increased risk for injury especially in terms of the varying demands that softball mechanics place on the body.
Limited attention has been given to the throwing mechanics of softball secondary to the underlying perception that the underhand “windmill” motion creates less stress on the ligaments of the shoulder vs. the “overhand” baseball motion. However, research has found that the “windmill” motion does place similar stresses on the ligamentous components of the shoulder as the overhand throw thus resulting in similar inju-ries. The majority of these injuries arise from overuse and most commonly occur in the important anterior structures of the biceps, labrum, and pectoral muscles and the posterior structures of the rotator cuff which are needed to ensure proper maintenance of joint stability. The rotator cuff is a combination of 4 muscles and their tendons which act to stabilize the head of the humerus within the joint allowing for free/full range of motion without restriction. During the windmill motion, these muscles are most active during eccentric load-ing or deceleration and when compromised can lead to anterior instability of the humeral head indirectly cre-ating increased stress on the anterior structures.
When training and/or rehabilitating the softball athlete all pieces of the puzzle must be considered. The game of softball encompasses all planes of motion (front, side, and cross body) as well as upper extremity, core, and lower extremity strength and control. The shoulder must be strong during all phases of the throwing motion in order to generate, control, and decelerate force. The muscles of the lower extremity are highly ac-tive during the dynamic phases of the windmill motion to generate force, maintain pelvic stabilization, main-tain proper body alignment, and decelerate the forward momentum. The core is essentially the foundation of strength and stabilization of the body which is important to provide the stable connection between the ele-ments of the lower and upper extremities. When assessing the body, the anterior chain is considered your “explosive/power” muscles and the posterior chain is considered your “endurance” muscles and each must be trained with this logic in mind. With this being said for mechanical, strength, and stabilization purposes train-ing must occur in all planes, positions, and phases of motion in order to ensure proper neuromuscular devel-opment and joint stabilization. However, one must always ensure the proper biomechanical foundation is de-veloped and controlled prior targeting strength and speed.