Does upper quarter closed kinetic chain testing matter for a baseball player?

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I am frequently asked, “What tests are available when doing return to sport testing for a baseball pitcher?” When I start to suggest some closed kinetic chain tests like the Closed Kinetic Chain Upper Extremity Stability Test and the Upper Quarter Y Balance Test, I immediately get the next question of

“Why should I test someone in the closed kinetic chain when his sport is exclusively performed in the open kinetic chain?”

OR

“Closed kinetic chain testing is not “functional” for a baseball pitcher, why do it?”

 

First, we must define the goal of testing.  Is replicating the sport or activity that the person is returning to our goal? I am not sure I have the ability or equipment needed to evaluate a baseball pitcher that moves at over 8,000 degrees per second. In order to capture that speed accurately, sophisticated (and typically time consuming and costly) biomechanical analysis is required.

Chain GroupThe problem is, even with that huge quantity of precise data, it does not tell us WHY the elbow or shoulder is in a certain position. Is it a problem with technique, or is it an underlying thoracic mobility or dynamic core stability issue? For that, I need different testing.

My goal in testing the upper quarter in the overhead athlete is to determine if the person has the fundamental mobility, stability, and motor control that is the foundation for human movement regardless of the speed. This foundation includes not only glenohumeral joint stability and scapular stability, but how that extremity integrates with the core.

Most clinicians would agree that basic range of motion and strength need to be present prior to sport. Beyond traditional goniometer and muscle testing, one of the best ways of evaluating an athlete that has adequate mobility and stability is through testing in the closed kinetic chain. If the athlete can demonstrate that he has basic motor control competency and capacity in the closed kinetic chain, I have more data points to indicate that he has a solid foundation for sport specific skills, like hurling a small projectile thousands of degrees per second.

I want to first see that he has bilateral static stability through plank and push up type positions. Then progressing to unilateral static postures like the side bridge. Ultimately, I really want to see how the person responds when challenged and deficits are typically best seen at the limit of stability.

What do you think about testing open kinetic chain athletes in the closed kinetic chain and what tests do you use? Let’s start a discussion.

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4 Comments:

  • By Pete Van Doren, PT 12 Oct 2013

    Nothing wrong with testing mobility and stability in overhead athletes, but those findings may not carry over to throwing performance…especially high velocity, low load eccentric deceleration!

  • By Phil Plisky 12 Oct 2013

    Very true! How do you test high velocity, low load?

  • By Selena Horner 18 Oct 2013

    I am consistently amazed at the abilities of some bodies. I have no clue what testing could predict UE risk of injury for pitchers. Observing # of throws & ball speeds & the various UE positionings for the various types of pitches has me thinking that reducing injury is much more vast than performance testing. At the same time, I know most pitchers are standing on the ground, so trunk stability & hip power are key factors. Are the UE injuries more of a result of too many throws or too hard of throws or are there factors within the open kinetic chain that create a poor foundation for throwing? I know internal rotation/external rotation availability or lack of is one relevant factor. What are other factors?

  • By Phil Plisky 21 Oct 2013

    Totally agree on the importance of balance, trunk and hip stability and so does this research published in the most recent JOSPT: Baseball Players Diagnosed With Ulnar Collateral Ligament Tears Demonstrate Decreased Y Balance Test Performance Compared to Healthy Controls http://goo.gl/g3Svn8 . This research indicates that Lower Quarter Y Balance Testing is important in overhead throwing athlete both in return to sport and pre-season.

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Phil Plisky

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