Expert Health Articles

Shoulder and Elbow Health Part 1

James Davidson, MD

Blanchard Valley Orthopedics & Sports Medicine

For many people, spring is the beginning of baseball and softball season. Whether you or your loved one play in an organized sport or an informal club, it is important to be mindful of the effects these sports can have on the body. Specifically, sore arms are a common health-related issue baseball and softball players face, especially pitchers.

Throughout the season, players’ throwing arms are placed under a large amount of stress, which causes soreness to occur. While some injuries are a result of the athlete growing, shoulder soreness results from overstressing the muscles as they accelerate/decelerate quickly when the player throws the ball. Some of the injuries associated with throwing athletes can include muscle strains of the rotator cuff and impingement of the rotator cuff, caused by the repetitive nature of throwing, growth plate injuries and shoulder instability. These injuries can be caused by muscle tightness around the shoulder, laxity or looseness of the soft tissues surrounding the shoulder, and/or decreased neuromuscular development that occurs as the player is maturing.

While the forces are occurring at the shoulder, the elbow should not be forgotten, as this joint is also susceptible to those same forces at the shoulder occurring from throwing. This results in compressive forces on the inside and outside of the elbow. Elbow injuries that start with joint stiffness and pain can include ligament or growth plate inflammation characterized by a gradual onset of discomfort during throwing, due to an increase workload in volume or intensity of throwing, decreased velocity or control, and possibly a decrease in grip strength. These sprains/tears if not managed could result in a need for surgery. Growth plate injuries can occur in players starting with pain, clicking, catching or locking felt within the elbow, or possible loss of elbow straightening.   

If a player experiences arm soreness from throwing, a good place to start recovery is rest. Soreness is usually the body’s way of telling you to slow down and allow the healing process to take place. If pain is present but the player continues throwing, the player risks causing damage to his/her arm and may also experience a decrease in performance level. By resting, players are being cautious and listening to their bodies.

Additionally, players should ice their throwing arm for at least 15 minutes but not longer than 20 minutes. This reduces the inflammation of tissues that may be damaged and allows players to recover more quickly. Massaging the arm with a foam roll or tennis ball can also help relax the muscles and decrease recovery time.

Those who enjoy playing baseball or softball do not have to experience restrictions due to sore arms. By taking precautionary measures and time to properly treat the arm after throwing, players can get the most out of their season. Speak with your sport medicine or rehabilitation health care provider for more advice on how to properly care for your throwing shoulder and elbow.  

Look for next week’s article by Craig Hughes, operations manager at Julie A. Cole Rehab & Sports Medicine, to learn more about the preventative measures players can take before throwing to decrease arm soreness and damage.