Softball Strength and Conditioning: Controlling Congenital Laxity in Softball

Since stepping on the staff roster at Cressey Performance in December 2015, I have noticed over the year a rise in female athletes walking through our doors (which is totally awesome!). Luckily due to our niche in baseball players and the likelihood of them having anywhere from a small to large degree of joint laxity, it has made approaching programming for female softball population achievable. Here are four different ways to work with and around congenital laxity in softball players. 

 

 

What is laxity? What is hypermobility?

People tend to throw these terms around interchangeably. However they do have different meanings. Laxity portrays the actual translation within a joint without influence of pain during a passive motion (Noyes et al., 1989). A good example of laxity would be the forward translation of the humeral head during the overhead throwing motion also known as anterior humeral glide. Hypermobility can be described as an excessive motion compared with “normal range” and can be measured by angular movement. For example, if your testing hip internal (IR) and external (ER) rotation and  get 90 plus degrees while measuring ER (normal 40-60 degrees), you’re dealing with someone who has hyper mobility at that specific joint.

 

 

Is laxity or joint hypermobility bad?

Well, it depends. There is a very subtle balance between excessive mobility and instability. Instability is when you have an issue with either or both of the static or dynamic stabilizers. Static stabilizers work in a fixed position such as a short side bridge with arm perturbations. Where as dynamic stabilizers are challenged during an activity such as throwing a softball.On the one hand an excessive motion allows athletes to throw harder (more shoulder external rotation or layback), but on the other hand this excessive/violent motion might stretch those structures responsible for producing stability leading to future problems down the road. For instance, baseball pitchers who have greater layback during their delivery are going to experience greater valgus stress on the elbow, which equates to greater stress on the superior labrum. That’s why being able to control excessive hypermobility through the range of motion is crucial to decreasing your risk of injury and performing well on the mound.

 

 

Four ways to work with and around joint laxity

 

1. Avoid stretching through extreme laxity (joint translation)

When I attend summer league softball tournaments it’s only a matter of time before I see athletes standing on the foul line aggressively pulling their arm across their chest because they “feel tight”. The confusing part to understand is that in “loose” individuals their body needs to create stability somehow. If the body is unable to achieve stability from its primary source (rotator cuff) the body lays down trigger points in specific areas where the person has been unstable for a long period of time in order to create stability. 

Take this analogy, we all have been driving down the road and have seen that person who has had to duck tape the front of their car bumper due to a fender bender. The duck tape they lay down represents the trigger points that your body lays down to create stability. In this case, you are trying to create a more stable bumper to prevent translation. If you never go to garage and get it fixed (training posterior cuff stability) you will have the lay down more duck tape (trigger points) due to wear and tear the bumper goes through. Consequently, this is why I won’t use this stretch with my softball athletes for the primary reason it pulls them towards the loose end of the spectrum. The last thing I want for my already loose softball athlete is to stretch out a structure that is so important for providing shoulder stability. Instead, performing variations of standing external rotations holds to a wall or banded external rotations can aid in creating stability in the posterior capsule, help teach true ball in socket external rotation, helps the athlete stray away from anterior humeral glide while throwing.

 

 

 

 

 

2. Get stronger at adjacent joints

For any athlete getting stronger overall is going to help them manage joint laxity. By getting stronger you have the ability to run faster, jump higher and throw harder. Many of my softball players have come back to me after a hitting lesson and were shocked about how light the bat felt in their hands after a few months of strength training. Getting stronger has the ability to create “good stiffness” in places that were just too weak to support various joints. I tend to hammer back work with my softball girls that target lower and upper traps, latissimus dorsi, and rhomboids due to the fact the usually present with anterior tilted scapula’s, poor posture and rounded shoulders. Try throwing a softball overhead with all of these factors….it won’t be pretty.

 

 

 

 

3. Lower body drills with emphasis on “sticking”

The two biggest mistakes softball athletes make with jumping and landing drills are

1.     They land too upright and use their knees instead of their hips to absorb force

2.     The allow the knees to translate inward valgus (i.e. knock-kneed position)

By incorporating a “stick” component that forces them to slow down and maintain tension through their hips (external rotators) and focus on HOW they are landing. This can help athletes learn what it should and should not feel like when landing.

 

 

 

 

4. Be stable at your most vulnerable positions

The windmill motion is a vulnerable position for many players at all levels due to the forces being created. The greatest magnitude of kinetic and kinematic forces is during phases 4 and 5, the 12 o’clock to 6 o’clock motion momentum is built, and the pace of the humeral rotation around the glenoid increases, reaching speeds between 716 degrees/second in youth pitchers and 1250 degrees/second in elite- level pitchers (Lear et al.,). At Cressey Sports Performance we perform perturbations with baseball players in their layback position. They won’t be strong in this position but they do need to be stable in this position and the same goes for the windmill motion. Performing perturbations at phases four and five of the windmill motion will help reinforce proper stability of the humerus at the most vulnerable positions.

 

 

 

 

Closing Thoughts

Joint laxity is not the end of the world. You can still play softball and be perfectly fine if you continually implement drills that challenge stability not create more instability. 

 

Sources:

Jansson, A., Saartok, T., Werner, S., & Renström, P. (2005). Evaluation of general joint laxity, shoulder laxity and mobility in competitive swimmers during growth and in normal controls. Scandinavian Journal Of Medicine & Science In Sports, 15(3), 169-176.

Lear, A., & Patel, N. (2016). Softball Pitching and Injury. Current Sports Medicine Reports, 15(5), 336-341. doi:10.1249/jsr.0000000000000293

Reinold, M. (2014, July 11). Laxity Does Not Mean Instability. Retrieved January 06, 2017, from https://mikereinold.com/laxity-mean-instability/