With the NCAA College Baseball World Series in full swing, it’s a good time to talk about common shoulder injuries in “throwing” athletes. Baseball players as well as other athletes who participate in sports that require significant overhead motion (i.e., volleyball, tennis, etc.) are at a greater risk for developing shoulder injuries due to the repetitive motions of throwing or serving a ball, which causes significant stress on the shoulder – especially the area that keeps the shoulder stable. Following are the most common injuries we see in these athletes:
- Rotator Cuff Tendinitis and Tears:
Rotator cuff tendinitis and tears occur when the muscle or tendon is overworked and becomes inflamed. It causes pain that radiates from the front of the shoulder to the side of the arm, and is typically described as weakness and/or stiffness in the shoulder.Treatment for a rotator cuff tear varies depending on the severity of the tear and the desired activity level following recovery. With tendonitis or a partial rotator cuff tear, a non-surgical approach may work. However, in active patients (aka athletes) surgery is recommended, as there is NO evidence that rotator cuff tears heal on their own.
- SLAP (superior labrum anterior and posterior) Tears
A SLAP tear, also referred to as labral tear, may result from repetitive shoulder motion or trauma. These injuries are generally painful, negatively impacting movement in the shoulder. Symptoms include deep aching shoulder pain and a clicking or catching sensation in the area.In most cases, a SLAP tear requires surgical invention and sidelines an athlete for an extended period of time.
Known as “thrower’s shoulder,” impingement syndrome occurs when the rotator cuff tendons get pinched as they pass through the shoulder joint. Symptoms include shoulder pain that gradually worsens over time. It is generally safe to return to throwing once the athlete is no longer experiencing pain and the muscles have regained their strength.
Shoulder instability in throwing athletes gradually develops from years of the repetitive motion that leads to stretching of the ligaments that stabilize the shoulder joint. Although not severe enough to cause a shoulder dislocation, this extra motion in the shoulder can cause irritation of the tendons and bursa round the joint. This usually results in pain, numbness and decreased throwing velocity. Shoulder strengthening exercises can help patients maintain proper shoulder position; however, if conservative treatment options fail, surgery may be required.Prevention is key to avoiding these injuries in the first place. Warming up properly and stretching before and after play, refraining from repetitive overhead motions if you are experiencing shoulder pain, and avoiding single-sport year-round play are just a few strategies for keeping yourself injury-free and in the game.
Check out these shoulder strengthening exercises to help prevent injury and improve overall function in the shoulder. And, should you experience persistent shoulder pain or any of the symptoms discussed above, contact your physician for proper diagnosis and treatment.
About the Author
This article was written by Matthew Boes, M.D. Dr. Boes is a fellowship trained orthopaedic surgeon specializing in sports medicine. He serves as team physician for the NC State University football team. His areas of expertise include shoulder and knee injury and reconstruction. For more information on Dr. Boes click here.
Learn more about Matthew T. Boes, MD.