Baseball Players and Shoulder Injuries

Should pain is a common problem for baseball players. The throwing motion used in baseball is unnatural and causes great strain on throwing shoulders. Softball’s windmill motion, conversely, is a much more natural throwing motion, causing far less strain and allowing players to pitch far more often.

Our Beverly Hills orthopedic surgeons see a lot of patients with shoulder injuries. The Southern California climate allows for baseball to be played year-round, putting thousands of shoulders at risk for injury 12 months of the year -- as opposed to just half the year in other more temperate areas of the country.

How Do Shoulder Injuries Occur?

The shoulder is a ball-and-socket joint where the collar bone (clavicle), upper arm bone (humerus) and shoulder blade (scapula). The joint is stabilized by soft tissue, which includes static stabilizers like the shoulder capsule ligaments and labrum cartilage as well as dynamic stabilizers such as the rotator cuff muscles. These stabilizing elements work together to allow for a throwing motion. When some of these stabilizers are too loose or too tight, the balance is thrown off and tears can occur in the soft tissue.

The act of throwing a baseball is broken down into 5 parts:

  • 1. Wind up
  • 2. Cocking
  • 3. Acceleration
  • 4. Deceleration
  • 5. Follow-through

The shoulder ball (humeral head) fits loosely in the socket (glenoid), giving us all unrestricted movement in our shoulder joints. This does not come without a few drawbacks. While baseball players can bring their arms back as far as they want during the cocking stage and throw with great acceleration, this is all predicated on shoulder stability being maintained by a group of relatively weak soft tissue structures. As such, these ligaments and muscles are under tremendous stress during the act of throwing a baseball. Since pitchers throw with high or max velocity often in excess of 100 repetitions (pitches) during a game, this stress leads to a lot of shoulder injuries in the sport of baseball.

The most common types of serious shoulder injuries are as follows:

  • Torn rotator cuff
  • Torn labrum
  • Broken growth plates in the humerus for young players who are still growing

Common symptoms of a shoulder injury are a decrease in velocity, pain while throwing or after throwing, and the sensation of a shoulder that feels loose like it is coming out of the socket.

Ways You Can Avoid Shoulder Injuries in Pitchers

Since shoulder injuries are often caused by high stress for a high number of repetitions, the simplest solution is to decrease both of those factors. The first way to limit the chances of a shoulder injury is to avoid reaching a high pitch count. The second is to limit the throwing of curveballs and/or sliders because both pitches require additional strain. Both of these are especially important for young players with still-developing arms.

Even with these limitations, shoulder injuries can and will still occur. The best way to limit injuries to strains before they become full-blow tears or breaks is to keep an eye out for the symptoms. Baseball coaches of all levels need to be aware of the warning signs, which include (but are not limited to):

  • Velocity decrease
  • Loss of stamina
  • Poor throwing mechanics
  • Shoulder pain

If any of these symptoms occur, the best thing you can do is shut the pitcher down for a few weeks until the symptoms go away. If symptoms continue to persist, an orthopedist might recommend surgery as an option. The recovery time for shoulder surgery is usually about three months, but pitchers have an eight month-to-a-year recovery timeframe until they will regain their full shoulder strength and pitch velocity.

If you or your child has been experiencing shoulder pain before, after or during throwing exercises, contact the La Peer Department of Orthopedic Surgery & Sports Medicine today at (855) 360-9119 to schedule an examination.

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