Have you noticed that your fastball isn’t quite so fast anymore? Do you have to run in from left field a little more in order to make a play at second base? Is your shoulder or elbow sore and painful after practices and games?
If so, you’re not alone. Baseball and softball are two of the most common sports for overuse injuries in high school and college athletics. And how many times have you heard of a major league pitcher needing Tommy John surgery? It happens often. Here’s what you need to know about overuse injuries in baseball and softball.
The shoulder and the elbow take a lot of punishment in anyone who throws frequently, especially baseball and softball players. Elbow injuries can include:
- Flexor tendinitis–also known as medial epicondylitis or golfers elbow, this is an inflammation of the tendons that connect forearm muscles to the humerus (upper arm bone), and is felt on the inside of the elbow (the side closest to the body)
- Olecranon stress fracture–this is a hairline fracture of the olecranon, a bony protrusion on the ulna (one of the forearm bones)
- Ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) sprain–the most commonly injured ligament in throwers, the UCL connects the humerus and the ulna
- Ulnar neuritis–irritation of the ulnar nerve, which runs along the inside of the elbow
- Valgus extension overload–bone spurs on the olecranon
Common shoulder injuries in baseball and softball players include:
- Biceps tendinitis and tendon tears–inflammation, injury or tears to the tendons that connects the biceps muscle to the upper part of the humerus
- Rotator cuff injuries–injuries to any of the four muscles or tendons that make up the rotator cuff, the structure that keeps the humerus secured to the collarbone and allows for the raising of the arm
- SLAP tears–SLAP–superior labrum anterior to posterior–tears are injuries to the shock-absorbing pad of cartilage that sits in the shoulder socket (glenoid) called the labrum
- Shoulder impingement–this is when one of the rotator cuff tendons gets caught between the humerus and the glenoid, causing irritation and inflammation
Causes of Baseball Overuse Injuries
Throwing, especially overhand throwing, exerts pressure on the shoulder and the elbow. Pitchers get the worst of it because they throw more than anyone else on the field, but any position player is at risk for shoulder and elbow issues.
Cocking the arm back to set up a throw pulls the humerus forward and stresses the shoulder ligaments. At the end of the throw, the muscles, tendons and ligaments at the back of the shoulder have to work hard to slow the arm down. And, the entire motion stresses the inside of the elbow.
Treatment will vary depending on the nature of the injury and its severity. Conservative measures of treatment can include:
Some of the more common surgical treatments of overuse injuries for throwing athletes include:
Injury Prevention Tips
Proper preparation both on and off the field, as well as throwing with good, efficient technique, can greatly reduce the risk of shoulder and elbow injury while playing baseball or softball. Follow these tips for a safe and successful season:
- Always warm up before and cool down after every practice session or game
- Drink enough water to keep cool and keep the joints lubricated
- Engage in a smart, supervised strength and conditioning routine that takes into account off, pre- and in-season demands placed on the body
- Limit the number of pitches per day or week based on age
- Never work through pain
Get Help for Overuse Injuries
If your arm is feeling the burn this season, request an appointment with one of our specialists today. Our orthopedic specialists have been part of the treatment teams for high school, college and professional teams across the state and around the country. And, Summit Medical Group offers the comprehensive Sports Center of Excellence program for both injury treatment and prevention.