Category Archives: Exercise and Health

The Throwing Arm of a Baseball Pitcher – Understanding Shoulder Pain

Shoulder pain, particularly related to throwing sports such as baseball, involves the rotator cuff. You may have heard a variety of medical terms related to the shoulder, like rotator cuff tendinitis, rotator cuff tear, or impingement syndrome. But what does this mean  to a baseball athlete?

The first piece of good news is tha shoulder pain, like most other Pitcher at Mound, Throwing the Ballsports-related injuries, rarely requires surgery. Now that we are hopeful that surgery will not likely be required, what can we do to alleviate the shoulder pain and prevent it from coming back?

Before discussing treatments for shoulder pain, a basic understanding of the anatomy of the shoulder may be helpful. The shoulder is a complex joint. There are three bones and two joints that contribute to shoulder function– the humerus, clavicle, and scapula are the bones. The ball and socket joint of the shoulder is between the humerus and the scapula. The acromial clavicular joint between the scapula and clavicle moves with forward elevation of the arm and helps stabilize the shoulder on the chest wall. The shoulder is the most mobile joint in the body and because of this it is easily injured.

Causes of Rotator Cuff Injuries

The shoulder joint is often injured in the throwing sports, such as baseball, because it has a greater range of movement than any other joint in the body. Shoulder muscles and ligaments bare a tremendous amount of stress throughout the throwing motion.

When you raise your arm up above your head, as occurs during the cocking and acceleration phases of the pitching motion, the rotator cuff muscles can be pinched under the acromion, causing irritation and occasionally sharp pain felt on the front or top of the shoulder. This situation is referred to as “shoulder impingement’ or “impingement syndrome”.

Deceleration

 A good throwing technique requires the athlete to use his body weight and the large muscle groups of the legs, back and trunk to generate kinetic energy across the shoulder in the direction of the thrown object. After the ball is released, the retained energy in the throwing arm needs to be dissipated back to the large muscles which then absorb it. Stated more simply, after a ball is thrown, the arm must decelerate. The large muscles of the back and trunk, as well as the triceps and the rotator cuff all assist in deceleration of the arm. A tremendous amount of stress can be placed on the rotator cuff muscles as they assist in decelerating the arm after the ball is released. This is particularly true in pitchers who don’t follow through all the way. By not following through, deceleration must occur abruptly, increasing the amount of stress that is placed on the smaller and more easily injured rotator cuff muscles.

Biomechanics

As stated above, when a pitcher has poor biomechanics, undue stress can be placed on the soft tissue structures of the shoulder. Different biomechanical flaws place stress on different structures. Volumes have been written on the subject. What is important to remember here is that pitchers with poor throwing biomechanics place undue stress on the smaller rotator cuff muscles, compared to the stronger muscles of the back and trunk.  Ensuring that an athlete learns proper throwing technique is a worthy investment in the health of their arm.

 Overuse 

Overuse is the most common source of throwing related injuries. Most importantly, it is avoidable. Paying close attention to pitch counts and giving athletes ample rest is the best way to prevent overuse injuries. It is important that athletes are allowed to come out of a game at the first sign of shoulder discomfort or soreness, even if it is not convenient to the goal of winning the game that day.

Treatment and Prevention

Reduce Inflammation – Using the RICE method: 1) Rest; 2) Ice; 3) Compression; and 4) Elevation

Myofascial Release – When muscle tissue is injured, scar is formed. Scar formation (also called myofascial adhesion) is the body’s way of patching an injured area. The problem with scar is that it is tough and fibrous, whereas healthy muscle is supple and elastic, like a rubber band. Myofascial Release Technique is used to break up scar formation and restore the muscle’s elasticity, or rubberband-like characteristics. Once the rotator cuff muscles are painfree and myofascial adhesions are broken, therapeutic exercises are essential to a complete recovery. It should also be noted that myofascial release technique can increase throwing velocity by optimizing the elasticity of the throwing muscles.

Stretching and Strengthening Exercise – Stretching and strengthening of the rotator cuff is crucial to completing shoulder rehab and remaining pain free. A few simple rotator cuff exercises will strengthen the muscles, resulting in injury resistance and optimal performance. You’ll notice that college and major league pitchers perform rotator cuff exercises on a regular basis, even when they are not injured. This speaks volumes to the importance of a healthy rotator cuff in pitchers, as well as other athletes whose sport involves repetitive stress on the shoulder.

If you are shoulder pain due to a sports injury, please call me at 425-823-400 or email me at ProOrthoAppointment@proliancesurgeons.com to schedule an appointment.

Common Weightlifting Injuries

Weight lifting is a sport as well as part of someone’s exercise regimen.  Experienced weight lifters rarely suffer serious injuries but newcomers to the sport or exercise are more prone to musculoskeletal injuries.

 

Distal biceps rupture:

This is a rupture of the biceps tendon that attaches the biceps muscle in the arm to a bone of the upper forearm. A weightlifter can rupture this tendon at the elbow with a sudden force that extends the elbow while trying to contract the biceps. Performing a biceps curl and then losing control of the weight is an example. Surgery to reattach the tendon is usually needed. Choosing a weight that a person can lift and control can help prevent a distal biceps rupture.

 

Labral tear:

The labrum is a cartilage bumper in the shoulder that surrounds the glenoid (socket). With repetitive compression of the labrum or possibly an acute motion that injures the shoulder, the weightlifter can feel discomfort or a clicking sensation deep within the shoulder. An orthopedic surgeon can perform a physical exam and tests that suggest a labral tear. An MRI with contrast injected (MR arthrogram) can demonstrate a tear. Surgery is often required to treat a shoulder labral tear if it limits activity. Proper technique and having shoulder pain evaluated early if it is not improving can be helpful.

 

Shouldering impingement:

This is more of a cause of chronic shoulder pain in a weightlifter rather than an acute injury. Avoiding exercises that cause pain can help the problem. Working with a physical therapist to improve shoulder mechanics and strengthen the muscles around the shoulder can often speed recovery. Seeing an orthopedic surgeon or a physical therapist when this problem develops and starting a treatment program can often accelerate return to overhead lifting.

 

Lower back muscle strain:

A strain of the muscles of the lumbar spine can occur from using improper technique with exercises or picking up or putting down weights awkwardly. Fortunately most don’t require more aggressive treatment than rest and activity modification. Proper lifting technique is key.

 

Quadriceps or hamstring muscle strain:

Acute strains of the quadriceps and hamstring muscles from squats, leg presses, lunges and other lower extremity exercises can occur. Most heal without surgery and require only rest and short-term exercise modification. Proper exercise techniques and choosing an appropriate amount of weight can help prevent injuries.

 

 

Patellar or quadriceps tendonitis:

These are also more chronic issues with the tendons around the knee than acute injuries. Pain in the tendons above or below the kneecap with lower extremity exercises can develop and worsen over time. Often short-term avoidance of exercises that reproduce the pain, anti-inflammatory medication, and ice can resolve the problem.

 

Many of the injuries listed above can be prevented by using proper technique. Often simply rest and short-term activity modification can prevent a minor pain from turning into a more serious injury.

 

If any musculoskeletal pain continues to limit your ability to work out the way you want, consider visiting Dr. Stickney to learn and understand possible treatments by calling 425-823-400 to schedule an appointment or email him at ProOrthoAppointment@proliancesurgeons.com.