Why Pitchers ICE Arm Following a Pitching Performance?

Pitchers ice armThere is a lot of controversy around why pitchers ice arm post game. After surgery I was very strict when it came to icing post game. I know that it isn’t enough for me here to just say that, “Hey, I did it, so you should too.” So, I took some time to research the web and I found several websites reference the work of Dr. Meeusen from Antwerp, where I played some professional baseball. He based his life study around icing as a means to help heal a damaged muscle. His documentation describes how ice can be effective and where it can cause problems.

I understand you will get many different sides to the icing debate but I have yet to find research that has proven it to be bad. More of the research shows it to be inconclusive when it comes to determining the effects on healing.

In this article, I will give you some research that supports why pitchers ice arm or use cryotherapy for supporting the healing process. I will also give you a program that will help develop a more durable pitcher how will heal faster than just relying on ice.

Research by Dr. Meeusen on Why Pitchers Ice Arm

When body tissues are cooled, nerve cells in the chilled area initially force adjacent blood vessels to constrict, leading to a marked reduction in blood flow to that part of the body. However, if the temperature of the affected area continues to drop, nerve activity is depressed and the blood vessels begin to open up, flooding the injured tissues with blood, even though cold is still being applied. This flood-of-blood (Hunting effect) is the human body’s reflex reaction to thwart severe cold injury in a body part subjected to chilling stress.

Dr. Meeusen’s studies showed that icing initially stops the swelling and blood flow of the damaged blood vessels into the local muscle tissue but after a period of 10 minutes it can begin to have an opposite effect to the area. His documentation continues to state this damage continues on to another important system of healing.

Lymphatic Vessels: Prolonged ice application can cause lymphatic vessels (which ordinarily help carry excess tissue fluids back into the cardiovascular system) to increase in permeability. This causes large amounts of fluid to pour from the lymphatics “the wrong way” into the injured area, increasing local swelling and pressure, potentially contributing to greater pain. If icing goes on too long, the lymphatic vessels can actually be nearly obliterated, losing all of their fluid to surrounding tissues.

The lesson here is NOT that icing is bad. What we have learned is that icing is effective initially but begins to cause problems after about 10 minutes. Read the description below for the proper way to pitchers ice arm after a game to help aid the healing process.

Ice the elbow or shoulder region for 10 minutes immediately after pitching (DO NOT PUT ICE ON ULNAR NEVER), remove the ice for about 30 minutes, and then reapply it for 10 additional minutes. Repeat this cycle of about two 10-minute icings per hour as often as desired, based on how many pitches thrown, during the first 24 to 48 hours after pitching.

I also recommend that you use a heavy bag of icing. A little bag of ice will not cool off the area enough. You can put a towel on your arm to prevent freezer burn but try to use a bag of ice that almost hurts it is so cold. I also recommend taking a cold shower instead of a warm or hot shower post game for the same healing benefits of icing.

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12 Comments. Leave new

  • My son 20 yrs old JC pitcher started having distal bicep pain in Jan of 19 went through winter workouts. Spring trip to Fla for spring practice experienced sever pain first outing only went 2 innings, threw another 2 at end of week again pain , saw orthopedic surgeon upon return. Shut down for all of spring season went through PT for strengthening. Is now going into sophomore year now at a D-1. Playing in summer collegiate league pain still there can only go 2 innings max. , has had MRI nothing structurally wrong. Not getting any answers. Pitching coach says his mechanics are clean. Totally lost.

    Reply
  • Hey Brent ..
    My boy is 12yrs old..I’m not a big fan of long tossing so we would only go about 90-115 ft..we join another team & there older boys where long tossing 150-200ft so my boy thought he could do the same,then started complaining about his arm hurting so we stopped for a week pick up again after started hurting again..rested for another week and the same result it started hurting..so know I’m wondering what’s wrong overused,muscle tear,rotator etc…he moves his arm with no pain, only when he throws the ball it hurts?

    Reply
    • I am also not a big fan of extreme long toss. I would highly recommend that you attend a 3X Velocity Camp and learn how to develop your son for this game without risking serious injury. In the meantime, where exactly is his pain?

      Reply
  • My son is 12 and has been experiencing pain in his Bicept and Tricept while pitching lately. I took him to the Doctors and was told his Elbow and Shoulder look fine. He throws pretty hard, about 70-72 mph and it seems his arm starts to hurt after about 50 pitches. Could it be he just needs to get stronger or is there damage. I’m worried. Any thoughts?
    Thanks.

    Reply
    • This is the beginning signs of overuse. The bicep and Tricep help stabilize the elbow joint in the arm path and also work to decelerate the forearm. If the muscles are not strong enough to handle the loads then they begin to breakdown. He is not injured but is definitely on the road to injury. You need to come down to a 3X Velocity Camp and learn how to develop the high velocity pitcher to prevent injury in the future.

      Reply
  • Roy Hernandez
    July 8, 2014 4:52 pm

    My son pitches in a small college and has been told that his body has not caught up with his arm velocity. He has pain in the top of his chest, maybe in front of the Coracoid Process. What can he do about this. Dr. says it doesn’t look bad and has given him oral prescription for inflammation and second visit was given a shot. What next?

    Reply
    • I am not a Doctor but they do not have many tools but anti-inflammatories and surgery. He needs to get into a program that will help develop more shoulder and total body strength along with teaching him better pitching mechanics. I would recommend he checkout the 3X Pitching Velocity Program or setup a video analysis.

      Reply
  • Hey Brent,

    You said you should never ice the ulnar nerve. So where should the bag of ice go specifically on your elbow then?
    Also where is the best place to put the bag of ice on your shoulder?

    Reply
  • Dear Adviser,

    I have surfered too long carrying this pain in my elbow, just below trieps and surdenly found your articules about how to relief my pains. Sincerely, it has being nearly fourb years.
    Considering what I have read, I need advice on what to do.
    I have tried all kinds of creams or lotions trying to get rid of the pains but to no avail. My home doctor even injected the affected area and still the pain remains.
    What can I do?

    t.amos

    Reply
    • Is this a baseball related pain? If so this type of pain is the result of poor throwing mechanics or poor joint strength. I would you recommend you submit pitching video for analysis so I can determine your mechanical flaws to help you resolve this issue.

      Reply

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