I had the pleasure of attending the Sports Physical Therapy Section of the American Physical Therapy Association’s annual meeting called the Team Concept Conference in Las Vegas the week after Thanksgiving. This was a collection of the absolute best minds in sports physical therapy. It was an honor to attend.
I will probably have several posts from this event, but my favorite was from Mike Reinhold from the Boston area and formerly with the Red Sox. His company is Champion Physical Therapy and he has a strong social media presence. He spends a great deal of time rehabbing baseball players as well as working in the sports performance world. He is a dynamic speaker, well versed in the relevant research, and a tremendous resource for the other sports therapists in the country.
He presented his prospective research on weighted ball throws to increase baseball throwing velocity. These claims are all over the internet. And since scouts seem to only want to look for velocity, parents, teams, coaches, and parents have gravitated to this concept. But is it safe?
I am paraphrasing, but here are some take home points:
1. Scouts are looking for velocity
2. We know increased velocity has led to increased injuries in pitchers
3. Overuse is a big deal – both amount of throws AND intensity of throws
4. Weighted balls can be anywhere from 4-17 oz (baseball = 5oz)
5. In a 6 week program (although dosage is not completely known): players increased overhead flexion mobility, increased external rotation (laid back position) mobility, had a small increase in velocity, but had a significant increase in injuries.
I repeat: The players had an increase in injuries.
Scouts want velocity but if you have a history of injuries, or worse yet, surgery, your phone will not be ringing.
This is the first, that I know of, well done, prospective research done on weighted balls.
My take is to avoid them. I have never used them. A pitcher throwing down a mound with a 5 oz ball at maximum fastball can have 2-3x body weight pressure exerted on his shoulder each and every pitch. This can be damaging. If we add more weight to the end of a long lever (the arm), this will increase the force and increase the potential damage. This is especially true when you have to decelerate after release, which is when most of the damage occurs anyway. It seems to make sense logically to overload the system, similar to weight lifting. But the physics suggests increased forces on a system that is already damaged with overhead pitching from a mound.
Translation: I would not recommend weighted balls to increase velocity.
There are safe ways to do this. Core work. Strengthening. Better mechanics. Conditioning. Rest. Plus many others. Call me, we will get you on track. And, way to go Mike – awesome research.
Kash Eagleton, DPT, SCS
Doctor of Physical Therapy
Board Certified Sports Physical Therapy Specialist