Ice: It's Not the Answer
It’s hard to believe, but ten years ago I was a junior in college. If you would have watched me pitch in college (or when I was in the minor leagues) you would have noticed a routine after each outing. The end of that routine was always the same: I would wrap my arm, from shoulder to forearm, with bags of ice, secured by the clear plastic wrap that athletic trainers seem to have in abundance. Looking back, I have to admit something: My name is Brian Oates, and I had an ice problem.
This problem goes all the way back to high school. I can remember many nights sitting in the living room with my elbow submerged in a bucket of ice. In high school, I had problems recovering between outings due to mechanical inefficiencies. So I thought the answer to this recovery issue was to ice my arm as much and as long as possible. This “solution” continued into college and ultimately into professional baseball. Heck, everybody iced their arms—pitchers, catchers, infielders, even the coach who threw batting practice. Looking back, we were so wrong. Perhaps ignorant is a better word.
I’m certainly not the first person to write about baseball’s ice obsession, but in the last few months I have been to Spring Training and several college baseball games and people continue to ice. So I thought that another post on ice was needed.
What is the conventional reason baseball people believe athletes should ice their arm? I was always told and often still hear that it is because lactic acid builds up in your arm after throwing. Therefore, the thinking goes, that ice will help to reduce the symptoms and amount of lactic acid that builds up in your arm, which will help your recovery. However, studies have shown that after 7 innings of pitching there is no lactate in the blood. Zero. None. Zilch.
Setting aside the issue of lactic acid, on a very basic level, many people simply believe that the use of ice can ward off or reduce post-throwing soreness. However, that too is simply not the case. As my friend Randy Sullivan of the Florida Baseball Ranch and The ARMory has shared with me, the most common reason for soreness is due to microscopic tears in the fibers of the muscles, tendons, and ligaments that occurs during pitching. But the way you rebuild tissues damaged by these tears is through blood flow, not blood restriction. The only caveat is in the situation where an athlete is actually injured (not sore or tender). If the athlete is dealing with an injury or acute inflammation, ice could be beneficial.
Now, I have no scientific or medical background, but in laymen’s terms, blood carries within it platelets that are full of nutrients and the ability to heal damaged tissue. We all understand that icing the arm restricts the blood flow to that region. This reduces the amount of platelets that are able to reach the damaged tissues in the shoulder, arm, and elbow. Instead, we should be focused on increasing blood flow to the arm, as this will deliver more platelets and healing to the damaged areas. Some baseball people understand this to a degree, as they have “flush” days after an outing. Unfortunately, too many of these flush days are simply long runs, which are not good for baseball athletes. I have written about the uselessness of distance running in the past.
Instead, there are incredible activities that can help bring more blood and platelets to the injured tissue in the arm, which will improve and shorten recover time between outings. Below are five examples of exercises that can significantly increase the blood flow to your arm:
My last post discussed this new product, so please read that post to get the full description and benefits of the Rocket Wrap. Essentially, the Rocket Wrap is a compression floss that can be used to increase blood flow to the joint that is wrapped, whether that joint is the shoulder or elbow. When an athlete wraps the joint tightly with the Rocket Wrap he restricts blood flow to the area. The brain realizes that something is going on because the body is having trouble pumping blood to the area. This effect is compounded by performing exercises and movements while wearing the Rocket Wrap, which causes the body to pump even more blood to the effected (compressed) area. When the athlete suddenly removes the Rocket Wrap, all of the blood—and platelets contained in the blood—begin to flush the area that was compressed, helping with the recovery and healing of that joint. This all occurs without any throwing exercises or putting any additional throwing specific stress on the arm.
(2) Shoulder Tube
The Shoulder Tube is one of Oates Specialties’ oldest and best-selling products. It has been featured on ESPN and in Sports Illustrated as it is used extensively by a number of Major Leaguers, including Trevor Bauer. The Shoulder Tube is a flexible tube that allows an athlete to shake it while moving through different ranges of motion with his arm. When an athlete shakes the Shoulder Tube, it oscillates in a slow rhythmic fashion caused by the counterweights at the end of the device. Within minutes the athlete will feel the increased flexibility and blood flow throughout the entire shoulder complex. The great thing about the Shoulder Tube is that an athlete can mimic the throwing specific movements while oscillating the Shoulder Tube creating significant blood flow to the most important areas of the arm.
The TAP Baseball Training Sock is a modified version of weighted ball holds. The athlete secures the TAP Baseball Training Sock around his hand and wrist with the desired ball in the sock. The design of the sock allows the athlete to perform a full throwing motion with ball release. This allows for an athlete to work on his deceleration movements while under a load, as the ball remains in the bag and the athlete has to decelerate its weight along with his arm. This philosophy comes from tennis players, who have to decelerate the tennis racket after they serve, yet do not experience arm injuries like baseball athletes. The loaded declaration enabled by the TAP Baseball Training Sock helps to increase the blood flow to the shoulder while reducing the stress of throwing a baseball.
(4) Exercise Bands
Exercise Bands are the most innocuous product on this list and perhaps on Oates Specialties’ website. But these innocent looking bands can provide an intense burn, thereby increasing the blood flow to the shoulder and arm. An athlete can put the bands around his wrists and use them in a variety of exercises to target the shoulder, scaps, and arms. Whether in the pushup position or standing, the exercise bands will quickly provide the increased blood flow that is critical to recovery.
(5) Wrist Weights
Wrist weights are incredible tools to strengthen, warm, or cool down the shoulder. Whether doing traditional Jobe-type activities or performing pronation drills, the wrist weights will allow an athlete to take the shoulder through the entire range of motion used while throwing. Oates Specialties carries three types of wrist weights for you to choose from: Wrist Weights-Economy Set; Wrist Weights-Standard Duty Set; Wrist Weights-Extreme Duty Set.
These five products, and their associated exercises, will help you recover far quicker than wrapping yourself like a mummy in ice bags. Trust me, a former ice-addict myself, increased blood flow is the key to a faster recovery.
Until next time,