Why shoulder injury recoveries are complex

January 2, 2015

Topic: common baseball injuries

Baseball pitchers injure their shoulders often due to overuse of the shoulder muscles. However, coaches and athletes may anticipate that the recovery process is a little easier than it actually is.

Baseball pitchers injure their shoulders often due to overuse of the shoulder muscles. However, coaches and athletes may anticipate that the recovery process is a little easier than it actually is.

Researchers from Loyola University noted that recovery time for common baseball injuries such as shoulder pain may be more unpredictable than previously thought. The findings were published in the journal Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Clinics of North America.

A common injury
Shoulder pain often happens to athletes who tend to throw often, causing the arm to quickly accelerate and decelerate. Though baseball pitchers experience this motion the most, it also occurs to tennis players, javelin tossers and softball pitchers. Throwing an object over the head can place a lot of stress on the shoulder. The shoulder is considered to be one of the most flexible joints in the body, which incidentally also makes it one of the most vulnerable.

Orthopaedic physicians may often have difficulty discovering the exact cause behind shoulder pain. The shoulder is made up of four separate joints, and an issue with any of the four may cause pain for the entire shoulder. Some of the joints are also well embedded in the shoulder, making them difficult to access. Pain may have various types of diagnoses, including rotator cuff tears, shoulder instability, biceps tendinitis, rotator cuff tendinitis, shoulder stiffness and so on.

The researchers noted that having experience with shoulder pain diagnoses and taking a general orthopaedic approach may help some physicians determine the cause more accurately.

Athletes may begin to experience shoulder problems very early in their career, even as young as adolescence. One of the most common diagnoses among young athletes is known as Little League shoulder, which is when the growth plate in the shoulder is injured. Athletes who are most vulnerable are those who decide to participate in traveling leagues, such as baseball. Shoulder injuries such as overuse of the muscles may be minor, but if ignored, they may turn into something more significant. Baseball pitchers who monitor their number of pitches may be able to reduce the risk of an overuse injury.

Shoulder pain treatment methods
Often, these types of injuries can be treated without surgery. Some of the most common treatment methods include using pain medication such as Tylenol that can reduce inflammation or icing the shoulder. Physical therapy can also help the shoulder heal and normalize. Resting the injured shoulder may help, but cannot be done for long periods of time. Not using the shoulder may actually cause the muscle to atrophy.

If the injury is significant, the athlete may have to undergo arthroscopic surgery. The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons noted that arthroscopic surgery is performed by orthopaedic surgeons to fully diagnose an injury and determine the best method of treatment. Normally, a small incision is made in the shoulder and an arthroscope, which is a small camera, is inserted to examine the injured joint. Once the cause is determined, other incisions may be made and the injury is repaired or treated. One type of arthroscopic surgery is when physicians simply trim or repair some of the tissue near a torn rotator cuff. This type of surgery is known to be very successful, with 89 percent of adult baseball pitchers returning to play, the researchers noted. However, every injury is different and often depends on the patient's condition and age as well as the surgeon's preference. Arthroscopic surgery may also be coupled with a more standard type of surgery depending on the severity of the injury and the experience of the surgeon. 

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