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Throwing Elbow Injuries

Throwing Elbow Injuries

What Are Throwing Injuries of the Elbow?

Throwing an object over and over, such as a ball or Frisbee, can eventually cause the elbow to be overworked and injured. While this type of injury can happen to anyone, it is especially common for those who play sports that involve throwing or swinging objects (baseball, tennis, golf, etc.).

The reason this happens is because the force of action when throwing centers on the inner elbow. Overworking this joint can cause:

  • Ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) injury: small or large tears in the UCL, a ligament in your elbow.
  • Flexor tendinitis: damaged or painful tendons that are attached to the upper arm bone.
  • Valgus extension overload: worn cartilage and bone spurs when the humerus and the elbow (olecranon) are pushed against one another.
  • Olecranon stress fracture: cracked bone as a result of an impact.
  • Ulnar neuritis: inflammation of an overstretched ulnar nerve.
  • Medial apophysitis or Little Leaguer’s elbow: pulled tendons and ligaments from repetitive throwing.
  • Osteochondritis dissecans: loosened cartilage when bones that are not fully developed are pushed together.

Tennis Elbow

Tennis elbow is a painful condition in which the tendons on the outside of your elbow become inflamed due to overuse. It can begin gradually, or suddenly after a specific incident. It may feel like an extension from your shoulder or wrist and can hurt when you flex your wrist. Do not confuse this with golfer’s elbow, which is inflammation of any tendon that connects your forearm muscles to the inside of your elbow!

Pitcher’s Elbow

Pitcher’s elbow is typically thought of as a baseball injury, but it can happen to anyone. It happens when the joint at the elbow area where the muscle and bone meet become strained during a strong overhand motion (like making an overhead throw as in a pitcher throwing a ball). Over time, this motion can cause damage and pain from overuse.

Golfer’s Elbow

Golfer’s elbow is similar in nature to tennis elbow. It is, however, a different type of pain and your physiotherapist will be able to tell you more about it and how he or she can help you deal with the physical symptoms using massage, heat and exercise.

Common Symptoms of Throwing Elbow Injuries

Although each of the different throwing injuries of the elbow are distinct, they have many similar symptoms, including:

  • Pain in the inner elbow, forearm, and/or wrist
  • Numbness
  • Limited range of motion
  • Weak grip

What Is Tommy John Surgery?

Tommy John Surgery, named in honor of the late Baseball Hall of Fame pitcher who was the first to undergo this procedure, is a common orthopedic surgery that reconstructs damages within an elbow by replacing an injured or torn ligament with a tendon from another body part.

This is a relatively common surgery used to repair torn ulnar collateral ligaments in the elbow. An athlete's ulnar collateral ligament can tear due to repetitive use or trauma and our surgeons can replace this with a tendon from elsewhere in the body. The ultimate goal of this procedure is to stabilize an injured elbow, reduce or entirely resolve pain, and return patients to their pre-injury status either for professional or amateur athletes. Fortunately, it is highly successful at doing just that and has helped thousands of people get back into sports without sacrificing their careers as an athlete!

What Causes Throwing Elbow Injuries?

Throwing injuries of the elbow have two primary causes:

  • Overuse of the elbow
  • Repetitive motion that straights the elbow

For the average person, major elbow injuries are rarely caused by stressing the joint during a throwing motion. But in the case of a professional athlete who may throw a ball 70 to 100 miles per hour, each throw requires a high level of force to be placed on the elbow joint. This repeated motion on this type of scale can lead to inflammation (swelling), cartilage injuries, bone spurs and eventually, tearing the medial collateral ligament (MCL) – otherwise known as the ulnar collateral ligament (UCL). This ligament should not be confused with the one in your knee!

When you tear your MCL, you will still have a full range of motion and the ability to throw, but not be able to exert significant force. Your MCL may be weakened over time due to gradual attenuation (weakening) of the ligament. It is important to know this because it gives you the knowledge that if changes in your throwing motion occur, it is likely an indication that you are harming your elbow's joints and surrounding soft tissue if change isn't made promptly.

Diagnosing Elbow Injuries from Throwing

To discover whether you have an injury of the elbow, your doctor will look at your forearm and ask you to move your fingers, hand, wrist, and arm. If you're unable to move any of these areas on account of pain then it is likely that you do suffer from an elbow injury. However, x-rays might be recommended in order to rule out other problems which may not be related to the elbow but are instead symptoms of another illness or injury.

Preventing Elbow Injuries

There are steps you can take to reduce risks of throwing injuries in the elbows. Some of these include: 

  • Exercise and relax your arm after completing sports. 
  • Change up the way you perform activities to avoid further damage. 
  • Ensure the equipment you use fits well by asking questions or making adjustments to gear fit which might cause elbow pain. 
  • Avoid participating in the same activity frequently or disregard intensity level down if suffering from elbow injury symptoms. 
  • Evaluate your workstation to see if there are any changes that could be made to reduce pressure when working on a computer or certain equipment regularly used at home, school or work place which might cause more harm for someone who has elbow pain.
  • Test out a counterforce brace as a precaution before resuming elbow injury activities again should such an incident happen again in time with higher risk of re-aggravating symptoms upon increased intensity and stress.

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