Elbow Injuries in Throwing Athletes: What You Need to Know
Elbow injuries commonly develop among throwing athletes. This article will walk you through common elbow injuries and how they can be treated.
What are common elbow injuries in throwing athletes?
The elbow connects the bottom of the upper arm bone to the two bones in the forearm. The joint that forms at the elbow allows the arm to bend up and down and for the forearm to swivel left and right. Athletes that frequently throw overhead, like baseball pitchers and throwers, put significant stress on the elbow and can experience severe elbow injuries from overuse as a result.
Common elbow injuries among throwing athletes include:
- Flexor tendinitis: When throwers repeatedly throw overhead, they can strain the tendons that connect to the flexor/pronator muscles in the forearm, leading to pain and inflammation in the inside of the elbow.
- Ulnar collateral ligament injury: The ulnar collateral ligament runs alongside the side of the ulna and connects to the base of the humerus. This ligament absorbs considerable stress from throwing and often strains under the pressure, leading to inflammation and, in worst cases, tears in the ligament.
- Olecranon stress fracture: The olecranon forms the bony part of the elbow that juts out. Repeated throwing can put stress on the bone in addition to the muscle, which can eventually produce small cracks in the bone.
- Valgus extension overload: Over time, the throwing motion can lead to the wearing away of cartilage in the elbow joint from the repetitive pushing together of the humerus and the olecranon. Bone growths can also develop on the olecranon, which can cause pain and swelling in the elbow.
- Ulnar neuritis: The ulnar nerve is a long nerve that stretches up from the hand, past the elbow, and into the upper arm. For athletes who regularly throw, the ulnar nerve can stretch out of place, leading to pain and irritation.
Sometimes these conditions are considered part of the broader categories—thrower’s elbow or pitcher’s elbow—which refer to the set of elbow injuries that commonly arise from overuse due to repetitive throwing motions.
What causes elbow injuries in throwing athletes?
Most of these elbow injuries emerge as the result of repetitive throwing motions that strain the bones, ligaments, nerves, and muscles that compose the elbow. Frequent wear-and-tear on the elbow joint can lead to a variety of painful complications.
Sports that often contribute to elbow injuries are throwing, baseball, tennis, softball, golf, and gymnastics since they put severe, repetitive stress on the elbow.
What are the symptoms of elbow injuries in throwing athletes?
Many of these elbow injuries share similar symptoms. Here are some common signs to keep an eye out for:
- Pain on the inside of the elbow that gets worse when throwing
- Swelling around the elbow
- Limited range of motion in the elbow
- Numbness or tingling in the elbow
How are elbow injuries in throwing athletes diagnosed?
A physical examination can help indicate the source of pain, the elbow’s range of motion, and the integrity of the soft tissue in the elbow.
Further imaging may be required to confirm an elbow injury. X-rays will show fractures or bone growths, CT scans can also be used to evaluate the bone, and an MRI can examine damage to the tendons and ligaments that support the elbow joint.
How are elbow injuries in throwing athletes treated?
When elbow pain first develops from overuse injuries, you should follow the RICE method.
- Rest the injured elbow. Limit normal throwing activity.
- Ice the injured elbow to soothe inflammation.
- Compress the injured elbow in a bandage.
- Elevate the injured elbow to relieve swelling.
Treatment ultimately depends on the type of injury and its severity.
More sustained conservative treatments include taking anti-inflammatory pain relievers, trying physical therapy exercises that stretch and strengthen the injured elbow, and modifying throwing style to minimize stress on the elbow.
In more extreme cases, surgery may be necessary to repair the injured elbow.
Two possible procedures include
- Elbow arthroscopy: In this procedure, a surgeon makes several small incisions and then inserts a small camera that is used to examine the interior of the elbow. The joint is examined for bone growths, damaged ligaments or tendons, and loose pieces of bone or cartilage that may be causing pain. The damage is repaired with narrow instruments through the small incisions, meaning no single, larger incision is needed.
- UCL reconstruction (or “Tommy John surgery”): When the ulnar collateral ligament is torn, reconstruction surgery may be recommended to repair it. During the procedure, the torn ligament is fitted with a tissue graft from a nearby tendon that allows a new ligament to grow and reconstruct the damaged one.
Treating elbow injuries in throwing athletes at Midwest Orthopaedic Consultants
Pitcher’s elbow and thrower’s elbow can cause considerable pain and interfere with your ability to succeed at the sports you love. At Midwest Orthopaedic Consultants, we understand how important it is to get back on the field or in the gym. Our specialists and surgeons are prepared to meet your needs with a variety of innovative treatments depending on your individual case.
Don’t suffer from overuse injuries on your own. If you’re experiencing symptoms of an elbow injury, book an appointment with us right away!
Only a doctor can tell you if you have this ailment. This is for informational purposes and should not be used in lieu of a doctor’s opinion.