Softball and the Female Athlete – From A Physical Therapist’s Perspective
Kelly Heffron, PT, DPT of Kate Grace Physical Therapy provided an article, Softball and the Female Athlete - From A Physical Therapist's Perspective, for our December newsletter.
For over a century the sport we call softball has taken on immense change from the discovery of the sport to the level of competition it encompasses today. Softball first originated in the “windy city” in 1887. It was started by the Chicago Farragut Boat Club as a form of indoor baseball.1,2 Prior to being termed softball, it was referred to as kitten ball, mush ball or pumpkin ball.2 It wasn’t until 1906 that official rules were organized for the sport.2 In 1926, W.A. Hawkinson provided the sport with its official name, “softball”.2 Since that time there has been tremendous evolution of this game. Perhaps the largest growth occurred in 1972 when Title XI passed and increased the availability of collegiate teams and softball scholarships for the female participant. Title XI defined that there would be equal funding for female vs. male athletic teams.3 It was following this decision that the United States started to experience a rise in the popularity of the sport amongst the female population.1 In 1996 softball became an Olympic event.1 Today softball is one of the most popular sports for the young female athlete.
The discovery of fast pitch came following the rise of female involvement in the sport. In 1982 the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) hosted the first women’s fast pitch softball championship.4 From 1988 to 2004 there was a 65% rise in the number of female collegiate softball teams in the NCAA; with this came a rise in the number of sport related injuries.4 At the forefront of everyone’s mind might lie the question “why has there been a large spike in the number of injuries inflicted on the female softball player?”. Wouldn’t it be safe to believe that as the sport evolved, the coaches and trainers would have ever increasing research available to them regarding how to best train the players to avoid injury? Unfortunately that has not been the case. Little research has been published to guide the trainers and coaches on how to effectively teach their players to play in the safest manner to achieve success while avoiding acute or overuse injuries.
There has also been a spike of youth involvement in year-round, single-sport participation. The advent of club softball has made it possible for the young adolescent player to participate in organized sport for 12 months of the year without rest. There has been a lot of research to support the fact that the human body can participate in year round athletics, but that there should be a variety of sports involved. Variety helps avoid the overuse of one region of the body. Think about how differently we use our bodies for softball versus soccer. If the youth athlete were to participate in these sports year round, she would use her legs predominately for one sport and her arms for the other. This would reduce the likelihood of her sustaining a shoulder or elbow injury that could result from year round softball participation.
Another leading cause behind the rise in the number of injuries is the lack of isolated strength training of the larger muscle groups located at the core. Our core (abdominals, pelvic floor, back muscles and diaphragm) makes up one of the strongest power generators in our bodies. We need to maximize the use of this area, thus necessitating that less force be generated and transmitted by the smaller muscle groups. Typically, the throwing athlete does not focus on using the core and instead “whips” her arm forward, using only the strength present in her rotator cuff. This applies excessive stress to the shoulder and elbow joints.
It is important that the softball participant, coach, trainer and general public understand the importance of core strength, varied sport participation, and isolated muscle strengthening to reduce overuse at the smaller joints where injuries tend to be more prevalent. Through this newsletter you will find tips to meet these goals and updates on the current trends in research. It is important to stay abreast of the current literature to maximize the efficiency of the athlete’s ability to participate without injury.
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