Is the pressure to ‘win’ causing injuries to softball pitchers?

May 12, 2019

This is a topic I’ve become very passionate about. I was injured playing in the state softball tournament last year. Last year was a very successful year for me. I pitched in every game and my team won all but three of those games.

I started having what could be considered “warning” signs during districts where I felt a pinch in my neck but I thought maybe I had slept on it wrong. I just continued pitching and we ended up winning districts.

During districts, my arm was bothering me, but I didn’t change anything I was doing. I went on to state where I pitched 24 straight innings starting at 9:30 a.m. and finishing at 10:30 p.m. with little rest in between games. Before starting the last game, I remember complaining of my neck and arm hurting but the pressure to win for my team, coaches, family and myself drove me to pitch the final game.

We ended up losing this game in extra innings. We didn’t even place at the state tournament. Was it worth it? Will I be remembered for my efforts? Would I do it again knowing what I know now? Did I learn anything from this? These are tough questions to answer.

I ended up pitching the best game I’ve ever pitched. The feeling of accomplishment and realizing what my body could do, and being confident in my abilities to pitch the right pitches was an amazing feeling. I think I might not have pitched as many games throughout the season, and took better care of my body.

Will I be remembered for my efforts? Probably not. I learned a lot about myself during this process. I learned that the human body can do amazing things. I learned I have developed a passion to help others, and create awareness of an increasing problem with not only softball pitchers but athletes in general.

After state, my arm was three times the size of my other arm. I had swelling in my face, arm and back. Over the next 10 months I started seeing several doctors, chiropractors and physical therapists to try and fix the problem.

I tried resting it for a month, but nothing seemed to help. Everyone I went to seemed to think I just needed to rest it and minimize my symptoms. It got to the point where I couldn’t even wash my own hair because of the pain and fatigue.

During this time, I had signed to play college ball at Walla Walla. I was starting to worry that this wasn’t going to get better with time and this dream I had wasn’t going to become a reality. I decided something needed to change. That’s when I scheduled an appointment with Dr. Chalmers, a specialist at the University of Utah who diagnosed me with Thoracic Outlet Syndrome in a matter of minutes.

This is a condition where the blood vessels and nerves become compressed between your first rib and collar bone. The main cause of this is overuse. Dr. Chalmers had me complete two different MRIs to confirm his diagnosis. He then referred me to Texas for surgery with one of the top five surgeons in the country. Long story short, I’m minus a rib.

My purpose and hope in writing this and choosing this for my senior project is to create awareness of an increasing problem that could possibly be prevented. In fast-pitch softball, there are no restrictions. A pitcher can pitch as many pitches, innings and games as they want.

A softball pitcher could end up pitching 90 to 100 pitches in one seven-inning game. Teams can average seven games per week which would equal 700 pitches a week. This doesn’t include all of the pitching done at practices.

Has anyone heard, “It’s OK — it’s a natural motion”? There have been research and studies that prove the opposite. When you are pitching at a high velocity and throwing different pitches it is definitely not a natural motion. I believe because of this more and more pitchers are getting injured.

This creates a lot of pressure on coaches and players to pitch the most dominant pitcher. If there were limitations and pitching restrictions, this pressure would be eliminated and coaches and athletes wouldn’t be forced to have to make decisions that could potentially be harmful.

This would also create a more even playing field, all coaches would be forced to develop other pitchers, there would be less pressure for coaches to pitch their ace, and less pressure for pitchers to play through the pain.

This would result in proper rest and less repetitions, potentially decreasing injuries. This with a proper strength and conditioning program, as well as a pre-season screening could possibly prevent or decrease injury.

Carter Thornton, 18, of Downey, is a senior at Marsh Valley High School. She is a four-year varsity starter on the school’s softball team and also plays softball as a member of a travel team. Carter will be attending and playing softball for Walla Walla Community College in Washington state this fall.