Hip and Thoracic Spine Mobility for the Throwing Athlete

Welcome everyone! In this week’s blog post we will cover a few exercises to increase hip mobility and upper back (thoracic spine) mobility for the overhead athlete. This is extremely important for any overhead athlete but especially important for pitchers. If we lack the ability to create rotation in the hips and/or thoracic spine we are setting ourselves up for increased load in the shoulder and medial elbow. Excessive loads repeated over a season or years in the shoulder and elbow increases the chance for shoulder impingement and the dreaded UCL tear in the elbow. The remedy for a UCL tear…Tommy John surgery. How long is the rehab? 12 months. These simple exercises performed routinely can greatly increase mobility while reducing the demands on the elbow and shoulder.

Let’s first talk about the hip since I believe it is one of the most neglected complexes in rehab for the overhead athlete.

Once the lead leg strikes the ground a chain reaction of mobility, satbility, acceleration and deceleration occur from the hip, pelvis, core, thoracic spine, shoulder blade, and finally the shoulder and elbow. If there are any deficiencies in these regions an injury may occur. For right handed pitchers, the left leg and hip has to be mobile enough to place the foot in the correct position and stabile enough to maintain and control that position during movement. Our hip has to externally rotate and abduct (rotate your foot out and step towards home plate) enough to land in the correct position. If your foot is directed towards 1st or 3rd base this predisposes other joints up the kinetic chain to excessive load. Once our lead leg is in the right position, our entire pelvis complex most internally rotate (rotate towards our lead leg) to generate acceleration. If we do not have this motion we are unable to rotate our pelvis fully towards home plate and another structure or complex has to accommodate for this deficiency. Thus, creating more load on the core, low back, shoulder, or elbow.

The thoracic spine is an inherently stiff complex due to the rib articulations up and down the spine. These articulations stiffen the spine and protect our internal organs but we should be able to rotate and extend our thoracic spine to an extent. When we lack the required thoracic spine mobility we tend to see increased demand in the regions above and below the thoracic spine (low back and shoulder/elbow). Regarding velocity and pitching performance, if our thoracic spine is not able to rotate as it should we lose the ability to separate our hips from our shoulders. This decreased hip/shoulder separation decreases the body’s elastic ability to “recoil” towards home plate and will decrease the pitchers potential velocity.

The exercises below well help increase hip joint and thoracic spine rotation/extension. I would recommend performing 2 rounds of each exercise as a warm-up before you start your throwing program. Feel free to ask questions in the comments below.

In our next post, we will discuss how the diaphragm and the core link everything together to transfer forces from the ground to the ball.

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