Common Shoulder Injuries in Throwing Athletes

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Whether you’re a professional athlete or an amateur athlete, your body undergoes tremendous physical challenges, making you more susceptible to injury. Our sports medicine team helps athletes and active individuals of all varieties reach optimal performance in their sport- from injury prevention guidance to accurate diagnosis and treatment of injuries.

In throwing athletes, stress on the shoulder is a top concern. Because of the nature of sports such as baseball, volleyball, tennis, and even track and field, athletes challenge the stability of their shoulders though repetitive overhand activity. Because of the repetitive motion and high stress placed on the shoulder, they are susceptible to a variety of overuse injuries such as tears, tendinitis, instability and impingement.

At Rebound, our team has more than 40 years of experience caring for these typing of shoulder injuries in collegiate, professional and amateur athletes. Learn more about some of the common shoulder injuries in throwing athletes below.

Rotator Cuff Tendinitis and Tears

Throwing athletes place tremendous performance expectations on their shoulders, particularly on the rotator cuff. At Rebound, we see many cases of rotator cuff conditions in throwing athletes and swimmers.

Initially many athletes may dismiss beginning symptoms because they are typically mild, involving minor pain during activity or rest. When the rotator cuff tendons are overworked, they become irritated and inflamed. As tendinitis progresses, the tendons are worn down, often resulting in fraying. When unaddressed, damage may continue to the point of a tear. The most common rotator cuff tears happen within the tendon.

Rotator Cuff Tear Symptoms:

  • Pain during activity or when lifting and lowering the arm
  • Pain during period of rest or while lying on the injured shoulder
  • Weakness, making simple activities like brushing hair, buttoning a shirt or lifting objects difficult or painful
  • Crackling or grinding sensation with movement

SLAP Tears

A SLAP Tear injury involves the top section of the labrum, which is the cup-shaped cartilage rim that lines and reinforces the ball and socket joint of the shoulder. This injury is common among throwing athletes because it typically caused by repetitive shoulder motion. While rapid overheard movement is the usual culprit, this injury can also develop over time as a result of straining, tearing or fraying the labrum (or naturally through the aging process). Pitchers are particularly susceptible to SLAP Tears.

SLAP Tear Symptoms

  • Locking, popping, catching or grinding sensation
  • Pain with shoulder movement
  • Decrease in range of motion and strength
  • Difficulty lifting objects

Bicep Tendinitis

Bicep Tendinitis, or the inflammation and irritation of the upper biceps tendon, occurs from repetitive throwing, causing pain in the front of the shoulder. Athletes may also experience shoulder weakness and tenderness.

Bicep Tendon Tears

When bicep tendinitis progresses without treatment or rest from activity, damage progresses as well, sometimes to the point of a tendon tear. The athlete typically experiences a sudden, sharp pain in the upper arm when a tear occurs (sometimes accompanied by a popping or snapping sound).

Internal Impingement

Internal impingement is often called “The Thrower’s Shoulder”, and primarily affects the younger athletes. During the “cocking” phase of throwing (like that of a baseball pitcher), internal impingement occurs. As the athlete cocks their shoulder and arm back, the rotator cuff tendons get pinched between the glenoid labrum and the humeral head. With time, this may lead to a partial rotator cuff tendon tear, or it may damage the labrum.

Instability

In throwing athletes, instability develops gradually. Shoulder instability occurs when tissues in the shoulder are unable to keep the arm centered in the shoulder socket. The head of the humerus bone, or upper arm bone, should normally rest in a shallow socket in your shoulder blade. Repetitive throwing causes the ligaments to stretch over time, making the head of the shoulder to slip from the socket more easily. As a result, the athlete may experience pain, numbness and decreased throwing velocity.