If you have not noticed, the lumbar spine is active in baseball and in all sports.  The movements of the lumbar spine consist of flexion/extension (rounding and arching), lateral bending and axial rotation (twisting).  Extension occurs when the pitcher fully extends as they proceed to the plate for a pitch.   Flexion occurs when the pitcher is following through to the plate.  Lateral bending occurs when the pitcher is about to throw the ball and bends at an angle to try to maximize extra arm speed from the throw.  Axial rotation is where the hips and trunk create the torque in order to help give the arm its torque.

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Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (PNF) is a stretching technique utilized to improve muscle elasticity and has been shown to have a positive effect on active and passive range of motions (Bradley 2007).  Some studies have tried to disprove the benefits of this type of training.  The techniques that are used with proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation is passive range of motion, active range of motion, peak torque and muscular strength. PNF stretching is popular among physical therapists and it is used to help return range of motion (ROM) and increase strength in people who have soft tissue damage or have had major surgeries.

Neuromuscular joint facilitation is a therapeutic exercise based on kinesiology that integrates the facilitation element of proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation and the joint composition movement with the aim of improving the movement of the joint through passive exercise, active exercise and resistance exercise (Huo 2013). It’s purpose it to increase strength, flexibility, and range of movement (ROM).  The main goal is to improve the movement of the joint by using passive and active exercise and resistance exercise.

A question I get asked about proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation is, “should you do it before training?”  A recent study looked at static stretching, ballistic stretching and PNF stretching before and after performing the vertical jump.  All 8 of the subjects did 10 mins of a dynamic warm up and then performed a day without stretching followed by static stretching 3 days, then ballistic stretching 3 days later and then PNF stretching 3 days after that.  The purpose of the 3 days off in between was to make sure the athletes were well rested before attempting each test.  The subjects performed 3 jumps in place 5,15, 30, 45 and 60 minutes after stretching.  The results showed that static and PNF stretching significantly decreased improves, while ballistic stretching only had a small improvement.  The study did mention that your body will regain its power 15 mins after stretching.  Even though you will regain your power, it is recommended to do your stretching after exercise.

Where does pitching power come from? As we may know or what you may have heard from your coaches, pitching power starts from the legs.  The legs initiate the process, relaying to the trunk and then the arm acts like a whip.  If you watch some of these power pitchers who throw 95+ mph, look how effortless they look when they throw. That is because their legs and hips are doing most of the work.  What I notice and what drives me crazy is seeing these young pitchers who neglect their lower body.  They overuse their arms, increasing their risk of elbow and shoulder injury. Studies have suggested however, that PNF stretching before maximal effort exercise decreases performance.  The studies also suggested that performing PNF stretching consistently after exercise can increase performance and range of motion.

We hear so much information on elbow and shoulder problems in pitchers, but how much do we hear about lumbar pain?  A friend of mine was an unbelievable pitcher who threw gas in high school and was drafted in the 2nd round by the Cleveland Indians out of high school.  The problem that he had was he was plagued with low back pain which followed him through college and into the minors.  Every once and a while I would see him and ask him what he has been doing for an injury prevention/rehab for his back.  He would tell me that he had tried about everything and has seen some benefits, but mostly he has been experiencing setbacks.

In a study done by Huo (2013), they wanted to test if you increase a baseball pitchers velocity by using neuromuscular joint facilitation and proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation.  There were 11 amateur baseball players who performed the functional reach test and reaction time exercises. The functional reach test is an example of neuromuscular joint facilitation. Reaction time exercise can be considered as proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation. The athletes were placed into two groups, a neuromuscular joint facilitation group and a proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation. The reaction time test consisted of an auditory cue box that was placed on the athletes abdominal region.  The purpose behind this was to see how fast they could react to a sound.  This type of test is designed to see how your core would react without thinking about it.  The neuromuscular joint facilitation tests consisted of 4 pelvic exercises that consisted of passive and resistance exercises.  These tests were tested on both sides for 3 sets. The baseball pitching velocity was tested before and after the tests. In the neuromuscular joint facilitation group, there were significant differences in baseball pitching velocity after treatment. In the proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation group, there was a significant difference in their reaction times after treatment. The results of this study show us that movements of the trunk were significantly improved by the neuromuscular joint facilitation easily.  When we have a strong trunk range of motion this will help our legs transfer the energy to the arm and create higher pitching velocities.

If you are a player who is trying to improve your game, neuromuscular training has it’s benefits. Neuromuscular joint facilitation and proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation can be an important tool to have.  It is very important, however that if you are planning on doing this type of train you will need a professional to administer you.  Be safe when doing this type of training and make sure you are properly warmed up and have a good sweat going.

Reference:

  1. Huo M, Maruyama H, Kaneko T, Naito D, Koiso Y. The immediate effect of lumbar spine patterns of neuromuscular joint facilitation in young amateur baseball players. J Phys Ther Sci. 2013 Dec;25(12):1523-4.
  2. Bradley PS, Olsen PD, Portas MD. The effect of static, ballistic, and proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation stretching on vertical jump performance. J Strength Cond Res. 2007 Feb;21(1):223-6.

Written by Chris Barber, CPT