Common Baseball Arm Injuries (and How to Avoid Them!)
Baseball injuries are all too common in the US. With arm injuries on the increase – especially among the youth players – we here at Arm Care 2 Go have put together a guide about how to avoid such injuries. We believe that proper prevention of an injury in the first place is always better than treating it later.
How Common are Arm Injuries in Baseball?
The problem with baseball arm injuries isn't quite at epidemic proportions just yet. That doesn't mean to say that it isn't causing significant ripples in the world of sports. Global Sports Matters reports that 86.7% of regular season MLB games had at least one player in them who have previously had the Tommy John surgery.
Perhaps more alarming, the same article goes on to mention that around 57 percent of all Tommy John surgeries were on youngsters between the ages of 15 and 19. When we delved into this statistic, we found a damning report by the Orthopedic Journal of Sports Medicine (US National Library of Medicine) that shows kids practicing pitching for more than 16 hours a week were at risk of pitching injuries and youth baseball arm injury. These rather alarming statistics show that youth baseball arm injuries indicate no sign of slowing down.
Ulnar Collateral Ligament Injuries to the Elbow
Ulnar Collateral Ligament injuries to the elbow are prevalent among baseball players. The most common youth baseball arm injury; UCL pitching injuries happen because of repetitive strain injury in the elbow. The constant force of throwing or catching the ball creates damage to the ligament or tendons of the elbow through tiny tears. UCL is the primary precursor to Tommy John surgery in baseball players.
What Is a Tommy John Surgery?
A Tommy John Surgery is known by the medical name of Ulnar Collateral Ligament surgery. Dr. Frank Jobe first performed it on baseball pitcher Tommy John in 1974 and forever after it retained the nickname of its first patient. The Tommy John Surgery is a last resort for many baseball players who have lost the range of motion in their elbow through repetitive strain injury. You can learn more about the history of this surgery by visiting the Bleach Report.
Pitching injuries like repetitive strain can be harmful enough to end a player's career. This surgery allowed professionals to heal up and get back on the playing field almost as good as new. Before this surgery, baseball arm injuries prevented pitchers from playing. Since the Tommy John surgery for baseball was introduced, it has seen unprecedented acceptance by those suffering from pitching injuries across America.
How Does the Tommy John Procedure Work?
The Tommy John procedure is a medically complex operation that is relatively easy to understand. When you have either a baseball arm injury or a youth baseball arm injury; the surgery may be suggested as a last resort. It will pain the patient and can take up to a year of intense therapy to properly heal. Once healed, the arm is theoretically usable once more, provided the operation was seen as a success.
While performing the surgery, the Doctor will remove the damaged ligaments of the elbow that are causing intense pain. Usually, the act of throwing the baseball over and over again with force will eventually cause pitching injuries by way of tearing muscle, ligament, or tendons in the affected elbow. The surgeon will remove this damaged material.
Next, the surgeon will remove an equal portion of material from elsewhere in the patient's body. It may be the hamstring, the foot, or the forearm and use it in place of the removed material. This new piece of tendon or ligament must then be attached to the injured area of the body – so the surgeon drills a hole in both the ulna and humerus bones. They will then thread the new material through these holes and seal the wounds.
You can read more about the Tommy John surgery for baseball via How Stuff Works.
Does the Tommy John Surgery Work?
Yes – and no. Apart from having a year-long intensive rehabilitation program if the baseball player wants to get back to work; other complications could arise. If an infection occurs, the patient can face intense pain and extended recovery times. If the infection is particularly bad, then the impact can be permanent numbness and nerve irritation. You may even fracture the bones in the places that the holes have been drilled if you are not careful.
With the uptick in successful Tommy John surgeries in recent years, the former career ending surgery no longer has the stigma that it once had. In fact, many believe that pitchers come back throwing harder after the surgery. While this is true in some cases, we believe the main reason this often takes place is due to the year long focus on developing shoulder and arm strength through an intensive rehab program.
Put frankly, players often put in the work to build up the rotator cuff and surrounding muscles post surgery instead of following a consistent injury prevention and strength building program prior to ever getting hurt.
Furthermore, we came across this article in AARP while researching – in which Tommy John himself argues against the surgery that helped him recover from baseball arm injuries.
The article goes on to point out that, of the 57 percent of kids aged between 15 and 19 that undergo the Tommy John surgery for youth baseball arm injury, one in seven of them won't make a full recovery and will likely never have fully functioning use of their elbow ever again. That's one out of every 7 players whose lives, dreams, and potential scholarship is all destroyed through one failed surgery.
As we mentioned above, prevention is better than the treatment. Let's take a closer look at some of the more common types of baseball arm injuries and how we can go about preventing them before they start to affect your career.
How to Avoid Arm Injuries
We researched some of the most common pitching injuries and compiled them into this one, easy-to-read list.
With the growth of travel baseball turning the sport into a year round event, the increase in throwing has risen significantly. While playing more can help refine skill levels, it can also have a damaging effect on the arm if proper rest is not taken. We recommend proper stretching and utilizing exercise bands prior to each throwing session in order to get blood circulating throughout the arm.
Pitchers are now throwing year round as a result of travel baseball as well and it is recommended to take several months off of pitching every year. At the Major league Level pitchers often do not pick up a baseball for a couple of months after each season in order to allow for proper arm recovery.
Pitch counts are often not enforced are monitored at the high school level and pitching in back to back games or with little rest in between in commonplace. We recommend no more then 80 or so pitchers at the youth level per game and nothing more past 100 at the high school level and above.
There are numerous muscles throughout the arm and shoulder involved in throwing a baseball and often these small muscles are ignored from a training perspective. MLB pitchers follow a strict arm care routine that they follow throughout the week. Here is a great Arm Care program that can be incorporated in the off-season and during the season: Arm Care Program
Do Rotator Cuff Tears Heal on Their Own?
Rotator cuff tears do not always require surgery. While the pain is immense and surgery seems like the right solution – it is not always needed. Oftentimes, less invasive treatment options are available, including home remedies and physical therapy. However, in the event of a completely torn rotator cuff, surgery may be the only option.
Are you looking for ways to improve shoulder flexibility?
Stretching is a very simple way to improve overall strength and athleticism that is often ignored.