Preventing Elbow Injuries for Javelin Throwers
Throwing the Javelin could just be one of the most awesome activities in all of sports. It is the perfect combination of art form, science, technique, and overall body power.
Unfortunately, it is also an event that can cause you substantial pain, especially in the throwing elbow.
More than ever, javelin throwers are going under the knife in order to repair the ulnar collateral ligaments with a process called Tommy John surgery. As the stats rise, if there is ever to be a turn-around, then there needs to be some changes in the way we approach preparation for the event.
In the following article, I will offer suggestions that Javelin throwers can put into action in order to avoid the pain of elbow injuries. As you read, take note of the repeated theme of change – changing habits, changing mind sets, and changing your approach to your event, for changing what you do before or after your Javelin throws can make all the difference toward how you feel weeks, months, or even years down the line, in addition to help improve your peformance.
and expecting different results
– Albert Einstein
Change #1 – Get Your Technique Dialed In Right
Below are many important actions that can have a tremendous effect on your performance with the Javelin as well as your ability to stay healthy. However, all of them are reduced to mere words on a computer screen if your technique is not correct in the Javelin throw.
It pays to learn the technique from a good teacher. Take note that this does not have to be someone who threw the Javelin like a superstar in high school. It also doesn’t have to be someone who has been a coach for 6 decades.
What you want is somebody that knows the technique, who has helped others improve their technique, and someone who has helped produce many healthy and high performing throwers.
Find these people, buy their videos or attend their seminars, and put their advice into action. Remember, all of the ancillary practices that follow get erased if your throwing technique is poor.
Change #2: Approach to Warm-up
Does this sound familiar to you?
You get off the bus at 10AM. Javelin throw starts at 2PM. You get off the bus, find a nice place to hang out with your teammates. When 1:50 rolls around, you take off your sweats, do some arm circles, and you’re ready for the first throw.
If this is how you get ready for your throws, you are asking for trouble. Your elbow is a ticking time bomb and it is just a matter of time until the UCL or some other tissue in your arm fails.
Instead, at least 30 minutes prior to your start time, you must begin doing a full-body general warm-up, involving things such as bodyweight squats, lunges, and push-ups, followed by transitional core work, and moving into an upper body focus as well. This kind of full-body approach to your warm-up gets the blood circulating throughout your body, raises the core temperature, and begins stimulating your central nervous system. All three of these things are a must if you want to perform your best in any athletic endeavor.
You’re not done yet.
Up until now, everything has been general, just warming up the body globally. Now it is time to focus on that arm of yours – your bread and butter.
Get your hands on about 6 feet of surgical tubing. You can buy it from pharmacies and places like that, or you can get it off amazon for cheap.
First, start off with some movements for the shoulders, such as External Rotations and some pull-aparts. Next, hook one end of the band to a fence and perform some internal rotations and then move on to some direct elbow work.
The resistance of the tubing will be very light. This is perfect, because the elbow movements will be done very slowly and deliberately. You want to hit some nice slow curls and some tricep extensions. By going slowly, you not only begin exciting the biceps and triceps muscles, but you also wake up the stabilizer tissues of the elbow and get blood flowing through there as well.
Finally, before you put your tubing away, work the forearm and elbow area. Again, go nice and slow and control the movement at all times. You will want to perform as full of a range of motion as possible throughout pronation (turning the palm toward the ground) and supination (turning the palm toward the sky). Also, move the wrist around in a circle against the band resistance to get the wrist and hands ready to go as well.
For a quick demonstration of these tubing drills, check out the video below.
Shoulder & Forearm Specific Warm-up Drills with Tubing
Important: Once you are done with your warm-up, don’t just stand around in shorts and a tank top. That will only make you lose the valuable warm-up you just attained. Instead, throw a nice loose sleeve over your elbow and get your sweats back on. In fact, don’t even take those off. Keep them on, especially during the chillier days of the spring. This will keep the core temperature up and make your warm-up more efficient.
The sleeve you place over your elbow should be tight enough to stay in place. It does not have to be some sort of medical sleeve or support sleeve. You can wear those during your throws, if you wish, but for now, just keep the elbow sleeve loose to allow blood to flow in and out and through the arm, instead of causing pooling in the forearm and hand.
Do you think people will say you’re not a “tough guy” if you warm-up? Ignore them. How well do they throw anyway? Are they in pain?
Afraid this is going to tire you out? If you are in shape, it should not. We’re talking 10 to 15 minutes of moving around. Sure, it will get the blood flowing, the heart pumping and your lungs breathing a bit, but if you’re in shape, this warm-up will not get you worn out.
Change #3: Your Recovery Practices
One of the biggest opportunities to improve that you have as throwers is improving your recovery practices. These are the actions you take from the moment your last throw is done until you go to bed that night. That is a BIG time period, and many do not use this time to their advantage in order to begin recovering from their throws and allowing their bodies to heal up for the next practice or competition. Here are some things to take action on.
1. Immediately Cover the Elbow and Upper Body
Just like how we used a loose sleeve to keep the elbow warm between the warm-up and our live throws, we should keep the blood flowing well to the elbow once we are done throwing as well. Again, it doesn’t have to be a tight wrap, in fact a towel works great.
If you have another throwing event coming up, then keep the area covered until it comes time to get warmed up for that as well. If your throwing for the day is complete, however, then move on to the next step.
2. Stretch out the Lower Arms
Once your throws are done, and with the elbow still covered to keep the soft tissues warm and pliable, go into your post-throws stretching routine. You must include plenty of work for the forearm flexors, extensors, and rotator muscles. By keeping these muscles loose and limber they will help protect the integrity of the elbow joint. If they get tight, they can cause further issues, imbalances, and make recovery more difficult.
Since the whole forearm is used, be sure to stretch all of the muscles mentioned, but perform the flexor stretches first and last. They have the tendency to get built up quicker than the rest of the muscles of the forearm, so they need the most corrective attention.
3. Apply Ice
As soon as possible, wrap the elbow in some ice. Often ice application is thought of as something that is only done for injured players, but that is a myth. All throwers, once their throws are done for the day, should ice. For most people, 15 or 20 minutes of ice is good. This will help to reduce swelling in the area and reduce the effects of inflammation or possible swelling.
NOTE: If you will be in another event after the Javelin, it is not necessary to ice right away. Icing the arm can cause issues for warming the arm back up for the next throws. Instead, wait until all throws are over for the meet.
4. Fuel Up
You are an athlete. That means you need to treat yourself like a well-oiled machine. Start putting high quality fuel into your body like good lean protein sources, fruits, and vegetables, especially green leafy veggies. Get this fuel into your body as soon as possible following your throws so your body can start the rebuilding process.
Protein shakes or meal replacements are not a bad idea either. They can be mixed beforehand and kept in a cooler with ice, and make for a quick, tasty treat after a day of throwing.
Get good quality food into your system. Pizza or fast food, despite their great taste, do not offer the same kind of replenishing and rebuilding nutrients and compounds your body needs. Scrap them for wiser choice foods.
5. Drink Plenty of Water
Your body is nearly 70% water. Between traveling on a bus, sitting around in the sun and wind, competing, and waiting around, there is the opportunity to get highly dehydrated. Combat this dehydration and jump start your recovery by staying hydrated.
Hopefully your coach can provide water or sports drinks, but if not, then throw them into your cooler or equipment bag so you have something to drink after your throws. (Of course, drinking throughout the day is smart as well).
Change #4: Bullet-Proof the Elbow
It’s also imperative to strengthen the elbows and forearms correctly. When this area is properly trained, it will resist injury better and you will be able to recover between throwing sessions more quickly.
Coach Ellis and I have released a comprehensive DVD on Grip and Forearm Training for Throwers. It includes many different drills that all throwers can use to not only improve their throws, but also keep themselves healthier throughout the season. You can check it out at http://www.GripTrainingForThrowers.com
Remember the quote at the beginning of the article: Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. – Albert Einstein
If you keep doing what everybody before you had done, then you can expect the same results everyone before you has gotten. Break the link in the chain now by changing your approach to your sport.
Check Out the Grip Training for Track and Field Throwers DVD.
Until then, all the best in your training.
To a Great Season!