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Overhead Athlete: Q&A with Dr. Jake McFarland

June 16, 2021

With the College World Series right around the corner and the recent success of our hometown Bulldogs, we've decided to talk a little bit about baseball and rehabing the overhead athlete! 

Rehabbing the overhead athlete is one of our specialties at LOTS. Whether it's a nagging shoulder injury, torn Tommy John, carrying stress in your upper traps, or just general tightness in your upper body, we've got you covered! But today, we've reached out to one of our good friends from Adapt Physical Therapy and Player Development in Kansas, Dr. Jake McFarland. We appreciate Dr. McFarland's time and offering up some of his best advice for overhead athletes and for those aspiring to play at the next level. Continue reading below for our Q and A with Dr. McFarland. 


Start off by letting everybody know how we met and where your career has taken you since then.

Jake McFarland: Chase was a student at the clinic I was a physical therapy technician.  We used to work at The Edge Physical Therapy in Shreveport, Louisiana owned by Trent Wierick and Anna Moore. Chase and I used to practice physical therapy/manual techniques, exercise progressions, and modalities prior to me getting into school.  He was a big mentor to me during my time at The Edge Physical Therapy.  After he left his rotation, I ended up finishing my job there and was accepted into the University of Saint Mary in Leavenworth, Kansas where I started physical therapy school. Since then, I opened my own cash-based physical therapy and performance training clinic my first year out of physical therapy school and I am coming up on my second year of business. My clinic is highly specialized in baseball physical therapy and player development, but I also work with general population athletes from our gym.

How did you become interested in rehabbing the overhead athlete? 

JM: I started my career playing baseball in college at Garden City Community College and Centenary College of Louisiana.  During my career, I found myself moving around the United States to train to try and understand biomechanics and training techniques for improving kinematic sequencing and velocity. During my junior year of college I had a labral repair in my throwing shoulder which led me to rehab for about 14 months at The Edge Physical Therapy in Shreveport, Lousiana.  I believe that I was misled to have a surgery and I don’t want other baseball players to go down the same route I did.  I am currently the consulting Physical Therapist for approximately 8 college baseball teams. I see about 200-300 baseball players per year from a preventative standpoint. My goal is to help educate the baseball population and reduce injuries.

What are the two most common injuries that you see in this population? 

JM: Anterior/Posterior shoulder pain and medial elbow pain.  Almost everyday I work with athletes who have some type of arm dysfunction. When looking at how to prevent this, we need to focus on maintaining range of motion in our mobile joints (shoulder, thoracic spine, hips, ankle) and maintaining stability around our stable joints including lower cervical, lumbar spine, knee, etc.  Most often I see a significant lack of shoulder range of motion, weakness, and very poor kinematic sequencing.  It is important that you are constantly assessing yourself so that you can understand where your deficits are.  Also, we look at our players from a mechanical standpoint to make sure that it isn’t something that is occurring from a biomechanical standpoint. We also look at sleep, stress, and nutrition as well.

Anway to reduce the risk for sustaining one of these types of injuries? 

JM: One way to reduce injuries is to keep a constant routine of maintaining strength and stability of the body.  I have developed protocols for all of my baseball teams and players to help maintain strength in season. If we look at research, we see that we constantly lose range of motion and strength over the course of the year.  Recovery happens much faster with full range of motion and strength.

What are 5 exercises/stretches every overhead athlete should be doing? 

JM: The 5 most important exercises I prescribe for throwing athletes are sidelying shoulder external rotation, supine shoulder internal rotation in the arm slot, half kneeling thoracic rotation on the wall, clams, and inverted clams.  That routine will constantly maintain range of motion through the most important mobile joints for pitching.

What is some advice you'd offer up to the parents and young kids out there playing the game of baseball? 

JM: The most important advice I can give young kid and parents is to keep the game fun. I have more kids than ever being injured due to the amount of workload and games they are playing. The burnout rate is higher than ever. Be patient with the development process. Understand that if you are 8-10 years old we have about 8-10 years to focus on being a college athlete or professional.  I always make sure my parents understand that kids should not be playing more games per week than MLB players. They play 1x/day for about 6 to at most 7 days a week.  Also, don't put your indentity in baseball. It is a game of failure and the quicker you can put your indentity in something else, the more success you will have. Baseball is about how you handle adversity. Learn to embrace it and learn from your mistakes. Trust the process and take it one day at a time. 

GREAT stuff from Dr. McFarland! We appreciated him coming on with us and helping educate everyone out there that might be interested in playing baseball. Stay tuned-in to our social media accounts for videos demonstrating the exercises listed above! 


- Chase Patterson PT, DPT (6/16/21)