I received this email and letter from one of my former pitchers recently. She did such a great job that I wanted to share it with you. This is one of many just like it that I receive on a weekly basis from softball pitchers all over the country. This is the reason to limit pitch counts and to MAKE SURE THAT YOUR WINDMILL PITCHER HAS GOOD MECHANICS!!
I know it's been forever since I've seen you. I just wanted to thank you for all you did for me for years. I made it to nationals, which was pretty much my goal after my first surgery. Thank you for being by my side in the Dr.'s office. I know there were plenty of other things you needed to be doing that day and it meant a lot to me you took the time to be there with me and dad. I hope everything is going well. Dad and I miss you. You were by far the best coach I had.
This is her story:
So I guess this all started when I was seven. Like every little girl should I started playing little league softball. I went through my whole first season with no problems. Then I decided I wanted to be the cool person in the middle who got to pitch.
I told my daddy, and being the overly compulsive worrier he was, he looked up how to pitch and how much you should pitch. He looked for weeks before he started letting me pitch. After finding no pitch limit or pitch count he just decided to let me start. I threw everyday for as long as my dad could sit on a bucket, which usually lasted about an hour.
I absolutely fell in love. It was all I wanted to do. After a couple of months, my dad found me a coach who was absolutely amazing. I started doing drills and that was alI I did for the first six months. I didn't get off my knees. I had a great foundation.
Then I started pitching in games at 8 years old. My dad only let me play league ball, no select tournaments. After three or four weeks of playing my forearm and elbow started hurting and swelling. My coach made me sit with my whole arm in an ice chest for twenty minutes after every game and practice.
When the pain continued my visits to doctors started. I first went to a doctor in Tyler, TX who worked at the Trinity Mother Frances Orthopedics, Dr. Fiesler. This was my first set of x-rays. She said nothing was really wrong, I just had a mild case of tendonitis. She sent me to my first 6-week session of physical therapy where I did strength exercises for my elbow and had ultra sound waves sent through my elbow to hopefully break up any scar tissue and relax my muscles.
After six weeks I started pitching again. I had pain within the first few weeks of pitching, but my parents and coaches thought I just had muscle soreness from using it again. A few months had passed and I still had pain.
I went back to the same doctor and again she told me that I just needed to do physical therapy to strengthen my arm. This session started at 6-weeks and ended up lasting about six months with no improvement.
I went back the August before my fifth grade school year. She again said, after another set of x-rays and my first MRI, that there was nothing wrong, but this time she blamed it on me. She said the pain was all in my head and I was just “gun-shy”, but she said with me starting school it would be a good idea to go ahead and cast my arm to prevent it from further damage.
I spent six weeks in a cast and then another six weeks of physical therapy. I took about 3 months off after all of this to give my arm a break (which happened to be my mom's idea, not mine). I started pitching again about a month before the league started. I had some pain, but my arm seemed to get better since the break.
I pitched through the season with my arm progressively getting worse. I continue to ice my arm after every game and practice. My dad still had found no pitch count or any kind of restrictions for softball pitchers. I pitched through the league season and was asked to join a select team. My dad reluctantly let me join. When the pain wouldn't subside we went to see a doctor at Baylor hospital, Dr. Ellis. He was an upper extremity specialist. Again he took x-rays and he said that I had carpal tunnel and nerve damage in my arm.
This was my fourth session of physical therapy. I went to see another doctor after the pain got so bad I couldn't move my arm for days after a game or tournament, Dr. Clark at Azalea Orthopedics. He used the previous x-rays and M RI to diagnose me. After a few visits with him he told me that my ulnar nerve was deteriorating and I had fractures in my growth plates. He said they would have to surgically move the nerve to decompress it.
My parents immediately told him that wasn't an option so he put me in a cast to prevent further damage and give the growth plates time to hopefully heal on their own. By this time I was in 7th grade.
After the cast came off he referred me to another arm specialist in his clinic, Dr. Wupperman. After my cast came off, 6 weeks later, Dr. Wupperman examined, x-rayed and did another MRI on my arm. He realized from the new x-rays that I hadn't had any fractures on my growth plate. My growth plates were closed completely. He again thought strengthening certain muscles in my arm and shoulder would eliminate the pain.
I went through another few months of physical therapy. After six weeks of therapy I began to play again. By this time I was playing every other weekend from March to December and playing a league summer team as well as a league fall team. My arm had actually worsened through all the physical therapy even with my muscle tone greatly improving. Dr. Wupperman referred me to a Doctor in Dallas, Dr. Conway.
Within fifteen minutes of being in Dr. Conway's room he had diagnosed me with Thoracic Outlet Syndrome. He sent me to have an EMG nerve test (The MOST painful test I have ever gone through, they pushed about 5 needles in different places from my forearm to my neck for about 30 minutes), which confirmed my TOS.
Dr. Conway told me there was a procedure that would fix it. He referred me to an orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Pearl. He was a part of the Baylor hospital. Dr. Pearl said there were things I could do in physical therapy to help the TOS. We called the physical therapists I had seen before and asked about the exercises I had been doing and most of them were the same you would do to treat TOS.
My parents gave me the choice of having the surgery or just quitting softball. By this time, my arm was hurting so much I couldn't live my daily life. I couldn't fix my hair because my arm couldn't be raised over my head. I couldn't pick up a jug of milk without being in intense pain.
I had the surgery eleven days before my 14th birthday. I spent five days in the Baylor heart and vascular hospital. Three months recovering from the surgery and then another three months going through physical therapy 3 times a week in Dallas at the Baylor facilities.
When I decided to start pitching again my dad found Ms. Sherry. I pitched with her for about a year. My pain was very minimal. It was the first time I had pitched without any real pain. After I went through another season of softball and made it to nationals. I came back to workout with Sherry every other weekend, my arms starting hurting again.
I went back to Doctor Conway and he wanted to send me through another session of physical therapy and possibly another surgery. My parents and I decided it wasn't worth it to have another surgery just to play softball. To this day, I can get through my day with no problems but I can't do anything physical with my right forearm and shoulder.
I often wonder what would be different if I had known then what I know now. I think without a doubt I would do it all again in a heartbeat. It was a blast, but I definitely would have done a lot different.
My injury was an over use injury. It was from the hours and hours I spent in my backyard pitching. The only problem with that was that no one ever told me I couldn't. No doctors, coaches, or anyone else told me it was a bad idea.
Everything we read said that baseball pitchers needed a limit, but softball was fine because it was a natural movement. I do not know if these people have ever tried to pitch or not, but it's by no means natural for a person to swing there arm around 400 times in a weekend. I know that girls' softball is not as big of a sport as baseball, but to the girls who play it, it completely consumes our lives and we love it.
I only wish we were protected and looked out for as much as boys' baseball. After my surgery, my dad put his own pitch count on me. He was very strict about it. Mine was i 00. After that my dad would come pull me out of the game, and he did a few times. I went out kicking and screaming but I thank him for it now. This didn't include warm up pitches but it was pool games.
He stood behind the fence and tallied all of my pitched. Every coach I ever played for knew that and my dad stood firm in it. Even though everyone kept telling him I didn't need one, he knew better. He also knew I needed to strengthen my arm, so the days I wanted to practice and pitch, he would ask me if I had done my exercises that week. If I had I could pitch, if not he didn't let me.
If I could go back and do it over again, I would play less. I know that sounds ridiculous, but there were times I played 4 or 5 weekends in a row. I practiced and played league games all week and my arm never got a break. If I could give advice to any girl it would be to play one season at a time. If you want to play summer league, awesome play it, but take the weekends off.
Don't try to squeeze in both seasons at once. Another thing would be to take a break. Don't jump straight from one season to the next, your arm needs to recuperate whether you can feel it or not.
The biggest thing I wish I had done was listened to my body, the second it started hurting I should've stopped until I wasn't in pain anymore, but my doctors told me it was fine so I played through the pain, even after my surgery. I wasn't in as much pain as I had been, but I was still the only one whose shoulder was achy and sore starting out on Sunday mornings. My arm never got used to playing as much as I did.
Would I let my daughter play? No, I would have to say probably not. While I absolutely loved my time in softball, I wouldn't wish the things I went through onto anyone. It was very painful physically and mentally. I had to go through losing a huge part of my life at a young age, and even though I stopped playing, I still don't have full use of my arm and never will.
|Sherry Werner: PhD is currently a biomechanics consultant with TMI Sports Medicine, and Tulane Institute of Sports Medicine, and a pitching instructor at the Sherry Werner Fastpitch Academy. She has held research positions at the United States Olympic Training Center. She received a MS degree in Biomechanics from Indiana University, and a PhD in Biomechanics from The Pennsylvania State University.
Dr. Werner's research has focused on the effects of throwing motions at the shoulder, elbow and wrist. Past projects include data collection and analysis of elite softball pitchers during the 1996 Olympic Games. Sherry also released an instructional pitching DVD with Jennie Finch in 2011.
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