What Spring and Summer Mean to Our Musculoskeletal Health

Spring has finally arrived and time isn’t the only thing jumping forward.  Our enthusiasm for the outdoors is renewed and our activity schedule is ramped up.  From the slopes to spring sports, new plantings and training for one of the biggest bike rides in Texas, the potential for overuse injuries is particularly high this time of year – following less active winter months.

Some of the musculoskeletal injuries and conditions most commonly seen in the spring and summer months include:

  • Skier’s Thumb
  • Friction Blisters
  • Allergy-Related Muscle Fatigue / Joint Pain
  • Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
  • Golfer’s Elbow

Skier’s Thumb

Though the skies and poles are packed away, signs of a common injury following an active ski season may linger a bit longer.  Skier’s thumb, also known as Texter’s Thumb skiers-thumb gardening cycling MLB: Oakland Athletics at Chicago White Sox golfing tennisamong millennials, refers to injury of the unlar collateral ligament (UCL) of the thumb’s metacarpal phalangeal (MP) joint.  This occurs when the abnormal pulling of the thumb, such as that from a fall or harsh pull while affixed to the ski pole/hoop, causes a forced abduction or hyperextension of the proximal phalanx of the thumb. If unaddressed, this injury is further exacerbated by the repetitive use of the injured thumb in texting.

Friction Blisters

While the most common concerns during baseball season include pitch count and the stress that excessive pitching and throwing has on a player’s elbow and shoulder over the course of a baseball season, these generally occur mid to late season following many practices and games.

A lesser known injury often occurs as the season gets started and impacts pitchers in particular – friction blisters.   The repeated trauma created between the baseball seams and the fingers of the pitching hand, predominately at the tips of the index and long fingers, can result in friction blisters.

Friction blisters, which are the result of repetitive friction and strain forces that develop between the skin and various objects, are also common this time of year among those increasing gardening efforts and tennis players hitting the court.

Friction blisters form in areas where the “stratum corneum” and “stratum granulosum” are sufficiently robust such as the palmar and plantar surfaces of the hands and feet [1].

 

Allergy-Related Muscle Fatigue / Joint Pain

With the vibrant colors of spring come seasonal allergies and a host of symptoms that can sometimes make involvement in many of these long-awaited activities a challenge.  While pollen allergies most commonly cause nasal congestion, a runny nose, a sore/scratchy throat and itchy eyes, they can also cause hives, itchy skin, chronic cough, mood changes and body aches/muscle and joint pain. After exposure to pollen, the body reacts to it as a foreign invader by releasing antibodies and natural chemicals called histamines. Histamine is a substance that causes inflammation in the body. Sometimes allergies can advance to bronchitis and mimic flu-like symptoms, including a low-grade fever, body aches and muscle fatigue which can make everyday activity and exercise more challenging if unaddressed. Continuing to train or play while the body fights to overcome allergy challenges can predispose the musculoskeletal system to injury.

 Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS) is one of the most common overuse conditions seen in hand and upper extremity orthopedic care.  In the spring and summer, it is often the result of new activity excessively engaging the hand and wrist such as gardening and cycling. It is generally the result of irritation and swelling, which causes compression within the narrow carpal tunnel located at the wrist – through which one of the major nerves in the arm, the median nerve, passes.  This nerve becomes irritated in the compressed tunnel and can cause numbness, pain, tingling and weakness in the thumb, index and middle fingers.  CTS can come on quickly and command attention or linger with varying degrees of pain that becomes gradually more intense over time.

Another hand and wrist condition, Handlebar Palsy, also known medically as ulnar neuropathy, is an overuse or repetitive stress condition that affects cyclists, though generally after completion of a long, competitive ride.  It is the result of direct pressure placed on the ulnar nerve at the hand and wrist – from the grip of a cyclist’s hands on handlebars, causing stretching or hyperextension of the nerve.

 

Golfer’s Elbow

While the greens are rarely bare in Houston, golfing tournaments really ramp up in the spring and so too do one of the most common overuse conditions associated with the sport – Golfer’s Elbow.  Also known as medial epicondylitis, Golfer’s Elbow affects the muscles and tendons on the inside (medial) portion of the elbow. The repeated activity of swinging the golf club places strain on the elbow, irritating and inflaming the tendons and muscles at the elbow joint.  This inflammation can cause pain on the inside of the elbow, as well as in the forearm and wrist.

 Preventing Injury

Easing into new activity gradually and preparing appropriately can reduce risk of overuse injuries and conditions.  Strengthening muscle groups equally and stretching sufficiently both before and after activity are key, particularly after less active winter months.

Ensuring proper equipment (cycling and other ergonomic gloves and tools) and products (moisturizing to reduce calluses and blister risk) can protect the parts of the body most vulnerable to some of these spring activities and sports. Behavior/activity modification can also help to distribute stress to different parts of the body, reducing repetitive impact on one particular area.

While allergies are often unavoidable, antihistamines and corticosteroids can reduce symptoms and improve performance.  Understanding the associated muscle fatigue and joint pain will help you modify activity accordingly to avoid injury.

Periodically resting and refraining from the activity causing pain can help restore limb strength and prevent more serious injury or damage to the affected area.

 References

[1] McNamara AR, Ensell S, Farley TD. Hand Blisters in Major League Baseball Pitchers: Current Concepts and Management. Am J Orthop. 2016 March;45(3):134-36.

SELFIE ELBOW -

Among the “Modern Day Maladies” of the Millennials

Medical conditions are often a “snapshot” of goings on in a society and a period of time. This couldn’t be more true as represented by one of the newest orthopedic hand and upper extremity conditions physicians have today coined “Selfie Elbow.”Selfie Elbow

Throughout history ailments have often reflected the activities and environment experienced during that period.  Gamekeepers thumb of the 1950s eventually became more commonly known as Skier’s Thumb.  Today it’s called by modern day millennials… “Texter’s Thumb.”

What may very well have been Archer’s elbow from a time preceding all of us, has over the years become popularized as Tennis Elbow (lateral/outside) or Golfer’s Elbow (medial/inside) – and today is referred to as Selfie Elbow, joining the growing list of “modern day maladies” afflicting millennials (those born from the early 1990s to early 2000s).

While the names and mechanism of overuse conditions may change, the end result is the same – tendonitis.

According to recent reports, millennials spend an average of five hours a week taking selfies.  And each one is expected to take over 25,000 in their lifetime (1,2).

The weight of the phone is not the concern. The repetition combined with the contortion of the elbow, held in unnatural positions while capturing the Selfie shot are actually what pose the problem.

Further adding to elbow stress is the Selfie Stick.  Selfie Sticks extend up to 51 inches.  Positioning and maintaining balance of a phone on the Selfie Stick further exacerbates the stress on the elbow and now also unnaturally engages the wrist as well.

Tendons work to anchor muscle to bone.  When the repetitive overuse and sometimes awkward positioning of the arm places continual stress (micro-trauma) on the muscles and tendons at the elbow, which help to extend and stabilize the wrist, irritation can result.

Currently Selfie Elbow more closely mimics Tennis Elbow and Olecranon Bursitis. Technically known as lateral epicondylitis, Tennis Elbow affects the lateral (outside) portion of the elbow.  The same diagnostic tools and treatment for Tennis Elbow are used to treat Selfie Elbow.

Symptoms of Selfie Elbow

The symptoms of Selfie Elbow are also similar to those of Tennis Elbow and can include:

  • Pain on the outside of the elbow during activity.
  • Weakness with grabbing or gripping.
  • Dull ache while at rest/night.

Diagnosing Selfie Elbow

A physical examination and understanding of patient history and activities leading up to the pain will help determine the areas affected and the diagnosis.

Treating Selfie Elbow

Treatment for this and most types of tendonitis includes rest and refrain from the activity causing the stress and strain.  Other conservative treatment may include:

  • Physical therapy to stretch and build strength.
  • Behavior modification – a change in posture/position while taking Selfies.
  • An elbow brace to be worn during the daytime and a wrist brace at night – holding both in anatomically comfortable positions.
  • Steroid injections.
  • Ultrasound or heat therapy.
  • Platelet Rich Plasma (PRP) Injections.
  • Shockwave Therapy.

While rare, if conservative treatment fails to resolve the issue and pain becomes incapacitating, surgical intervention may be required to remove diseased, degenerated tendon tissue. This type of procedure is generally performed by minimally invasive surgery including arthroscopy, followed by rehabilitation therapy.

Preventing Selfie Elbow

While avoiding such overuse conditions is difficult for athletes and others inflexibly bound to their activity, those experiencing Selfie Elbow are encouraged to limit their Selfie activity and engage their upper extremity in other exercise during off time.  Also, frequently changing arm position, and possibly arms, while taking selfies can help reduce the strain on the elbow and the tendons and muscles which support it.

References

 

Cowboy Casualties and the Rigors of Rodeo Life

While the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo has come and gone, the rodeo athletes who kept us captivated as they rode, roped and wrangled their way across the arena for the duration are on to a new city – and not even half way through their rodeo season.

The life of a rodeo athlete, many true cowboys at heart, is one of unyielding dedication and physicality.

Those who have participated since youth in rodeo events have built both strengths and vulnerabilities to the ongoing rigors of rodeo life. Proper mental and physical conditioning are key in avoiding serious injury.Rodeo Quote

While many of the injuries commonly associated with these athletes include concussions and fractures, others are the result of ongoing strain placed on the same limbs, ligaments and joints day in and day out for months at a time.

Many rodeo athletes begin in their teens, tie-down roping calves before progressing to adult wrangler, bull or bare back rider.  The years of hand and upper extremity strain predisposes this athlete to tendonitis in the hand, wrist, elbow and shoulder. Known as a repetitive stress or overuse condition, without proper treatment it can cause chronic inflammation, joint instability and eventually the early onset of arthritis.

Recognizing early signs of tendinopathic injuries and conditions and establishing an effective treatment program is key.

Tendonitis

Tendonitis (also spelled Tendinitis) is the inflammation of the tendons and other soft tissue connecting muscle to bone.  It is most often caused by repetitive movement, placing strain on the tendon and negatively impacting the affected area over time.  It may also occur following a sudden more serious injury such as a fracture or dislocation.

Tendonitis can affect different parts of the body.  Some of the commonly diagnosed upper extremity tendinopathies include Tennis Elbow, Golfer’s Elbow, deQuervain’s Tenosynovitis, Pitcher’s Shoulder and Swimmer’s Shoulder – named after the repetitive motion and sport implicated.  Though, many other activities and types of sports can result in one of these types of tendinopathies as well.

Among rodeo athletes, wrist tendonitis and tendon damage is particularly common, both as a result of the repetitive stress on the wrist and fractures and other trauma this athlearthritis_tendinitis_elbow_strainte sustains.

Symptoms

Symptoms of tendonitis may include;

  • Pain and swelling
  • A feeling of friction as the tendon moves
  • Warmth and redness about the affected area
  • A lump that develops along the tendon
  • Difficulty moving

A tendon rupture may result in a gap felt in the line of the tendon and would manifest with weakness or lack of function of that muscle.

 

Tendinosis

Tendinosis is often referred to as “chronic tendonitis” and is damage to a tendon at a cellular level.  In fact, “osis” represents a pathology of “chronic degeneration” without inflammation.  Key identifiers include disrupted collagen fibers within the tendon, increased cellularity and neovascularization.  This condition is thought to develop from micro tears, repeated injury and increases the risk of tendon rupture. While pain associated with this condition may be addressed similarly to that of tendonitis, emphasis is on stimulating collagen synthesis and breaking the cycle of tendon injury.

Extensor Carpi Ulnaris (ECU) InstabilityWrist Tendonitis

The ECU tendon of the wrist attaches the ECU muscle to the bone and is responsible for straightening and rotating as well as gripping and pulling movement in the wrist and hand. While this tendon normally slides over the forearm (near the little finger), held in place by the retinaculum (ligament-like structure), damage to the area can cause it to slip in and out of place (sublux) or dislocate completely.

Treatment

Treatment for and recovery from a tendinopathic condition will depend on the type and severity.  While minimally invasive corticosteroid injections have proven effective in relieving pain, rest from the repetitive activity contributing to the condition is also indicated.  Stretching and strengthening exercises are also proving effective.

In severe cases, or when the tendon becomes displaced and nonsurgical treatment fails to resolve the problem, surgical intervention may be indicated.  Surgical intervention may include repair of the retinaculum, tendon lining (tendon sheath), or tendon – or to replace the tendon if it is torn.

Prevention

While many injuries in the life of a rodeo athlete cannot be avoided, damage can be reduced by staying fit and strong overall.  Strength and flexibility, combined with periods of rest and other activities involving different muscle groups will help reduce risk of injury and the impact of a tendinopathic condition.

According to long time rodeo professional and bareback rider Cody Goodwin, “every ride is like getting in a car wreck.”

“You have to be in pretty darn good shape, which is why I jog four miles every other day and lift weights every other day – to develop lean muscle mass,” said Goodwin.

“I take good care of my body, so that I can, at my age, continue to compete with 20 and 25-year-old riders,” added the 41-year-old rodeo veteran.

Dr. Korsh Jafarnia is the hand and upper extremity specialist at UT Physicians / Memorial Hermann IRONMAN Sports Medicine Institute (Memorial City and Texas Medical Center locations), 713.486.1700.

STRIKE!

Looking behind the baseball at UCL injuries … and the role former Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Tommy John plays

 

The goal of every great baseball pitcher is to strike out the batter.  To do this requires not only talent but extreme power every…single…pitch.

Few other athletes are required to throw with this kind of power as frequently as a pitcher.

Over the course of a baseball career, particularly if begun at a young age and played competitively, this high speed force repeatedly placed on the elbow can take a toll.

Often beginning with Little Leaguer’s Elbow, a condition affecting young pitchers who do not allow adequate rest between pitches, a baseball player’s elbow joint absorbs a tremendous amount of repetitive stress over the seasons.  The impact of this type of overhead throwing irritates the tendons and ligaments supporting the elbow joint, predisposing pitchers to more serious problems.  One such injury is an Ulnar Collateral Ligament (UCL) injury.

Once seen primarily in adult athletes, the dramatic increase in more serious overuse injuries like UCL damage, Flexor Tendinitis and Valgus Extension Overload (VEO) in young players prompted the American Sports Medicine Institute (ASMI) and the USA Baseball, Little League Baseball and Major League Baseball organizations to establish Pitch Count Guidelines.

While these changes and educational efforts are expected to reduce the number of overuse injuries seen in young players, competitive league players remain at risk.

Ulnar Collateral Ligament (UCL) Injury

Elbow Anatomy and UCL Injury

The Elbow Joint and location of the Ulnar Collateral Ligament

The ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) is among the most commonly injured ligament in throwing athletes.  To accommodate the high speed throwing motions, the ligament stretches and lengthens until it can no longer hold the elbow bones tightly enough. Severity of the injury can range from a sprain with minor damage and inflammation to a complete tear.

Symptoms Include:

baseball bullet

Pain on the inside of the elbow

baseball bulletA feeling of instability in the elbow

baseball bulletLoss of strength in throwing

baseball bulletIrritation of the ulnar nerve (funny bone) causing numbness in the small and ring fingers

Diagnosis and Treatment

A UCL injury is diagnosed based on the results of a physical examination, X-ray and MRI.  Depending on the severity of the damage, rest and refrain from play along with rehabilitative exercises and anti inflammatory medication may be indicated. Work with an athletic trainer may also be helpful, to assess throwing mechanics and improve body positioning which can reduce excessive stress on the elbow.

If there is a complete tear of the ligament and patients fail to improve with conservative treatment, surgery may be indicated.

The UCL reconstruction procedure, which was performed on former Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Tommy John and is more commonly known as Tommy John surgery today, has dramatically changed the outcome for athletes.  In fact, his results were so impressive, it is reported that young players not actually suffering from a UCL injury have sought Tommy John surgery in hope that it would improve their performance [1]!  The procedure, though, is performed only when necessary to repair a severely torn UCL.

Tommy John surgery is a surgical graft procedure in which the injured UCL is replaced with a tendon graft taken from the forearm or the hamstring tendons.  This procedure is followed by an intense rehabilitation program that lasts from six months to a year, depending on the position an athlete plays.  Throwing exercises can begin in about 16 weeks.

The Role Tommy John Continues to Play

In the medical community, Tommy John remains credited with the shift in how athletes view UCL injuries. Once career ending, today UCL reconstruction has become a common procedure – returning most athletes to their sport at a pre injury level of play.

In the sports world, Tommy John is still revered for the excellent athlete he was, choosing baseball as his sport of choice and playing in all three of the Yankees vs Dodgers World Series in his era (1977, 1978 and 1981).

Undergoing the procedure in 1974 and spending his entire 1975 season in recovery, he learned to pitch in a way that relieved the stress he was placing on his arm and leg.  He returned to the Dodgers in 1976. His 10-10 record that year was considered “miraculous.”  But, he went on to pitch until 1989 winning 164 games after his surgery – just one game shy of baseball great Sandy Koufax.

The recognition he received for his unexpected success following the procedure now donning his name became the launching pad for other endeavors benefiting young baseball players.

His “Let’s Do It” foundation, which umbrellas the Tommy John Pitching Academy, is today dedicated to research in preventing such injuries and teaching pitching techniques that minimize the physical impact. The foundation also supports the efforts of the American Orthopedic Society for Sports Medicine (AOSSM) and its collaborators’ STOP Sports Injuries Campaign as well as the American Foundation of Suicide Prevention (AFSP).  AFSP and its outreach effort is an important component in the foundation’s efforts in memory of his son.

 References

  1. Longman, Jere. Fit young pitchers see elbow repair as cure-all. 2007 Jul.

 

 

Baseball Fit – Preventive Exercises for a Winning Season

As weather warms and winter sports wind down, attention turns to the promise of a new baseball season and the championships ahead.

Now is the time to begin preparing.High School baseball

At the core of a successful team are strong players – physically strong, well rested and well conditioned.

Baseball is one of the few sports played almost daily throughout the entire season.  For young players beginning in little league, this amounts to a lot of plays by high school.  The frequency of repetitive stress injuries in youth baseball have increased over the years, particularly with the rise in special “elite” teams and extended seasons. This is most evident in young pitchers, on which much research has focused and for which Pitch Count guidelines have been developed.

Although baseball is not considered a contact sport, injuries can result from contact with the ball and other players, as well as poor form/technique, or an awkward movement during a play.

Some of the most common baseball injuries include:

  • Injuries in the shoulder and elbow (Little Leaguer’s Shoulder, Little Leaguer’s Elbow)
  • Knee injuries
  • Muscle pulls
  • Ligament injuries
  • Fractures (Finger, Distal Radius/Wrist)
  • Concussions 

While some injuries resulting from collision with another player are getting hit by the ball cannot be avoided, exercise can aid in reducing risks or preventing many repetitive stress related injuries.

Repetitive injuries are the result of repetitive use, stress and trauma to the soft tissues of the body (muscles, tendons, bones and joints), which are not given adequate time for proper healing. They are sometimes called cumulative trauma, repetitive stress or overuse injuries.

To avoid such repetitive stress conditions and muscle fatigue, players should have a dedicated fitness program – ideally one that is also specific to the position they play.  This should include overall strengthening and endurance, along with specific exercises to equally strengthen the muscles of the limb(s) most used. Such fitness programs should also include stretching and rest between play.

Exercise programs should also be age appropriate. Young, developing players are encouraged to build strength through resistance rather than weights. Involvement in other seasonal sports such as swimming and running can also provide excellent overall strengthening and endurance.

Strength and Conditioning Exercises – Upper Body

As a throwing sport, exercises for baseball concentrate heavily on the upper body – arms and shoulder. Core strength is also essential for pitching velocity, hitting power and running speed.

The key to any exercise program is the balanced/equal strengthening of muscle groups. For the upper body, this includes triceps/biceps, trapezius, rotator group, and deltoids.

Some Effective Arm, Shoulder and Core Exercises Include:

  • Resistance bands – These can be effective in building arm and shoulder strength. (View video on how these bands are used in exercise programs.)
  • Push ups – Traditional push ups are very effective in building upper body strength (arms, shoulders, back and core/abdominal muscles).
  • Pull ups – Using your own body weight/strength these work on the biceps, upper shoulder and back, upper abdominals and obliques.
  • The Plank – strengthens the core, lower back and oblique muscles. (View video demonstration of the Plank.)

Exercises to Improve Leg Strength

Lower body strength and conditioning is as important as upper body training for young athletes. Leg strength impacts throwing velocity, bat speed/force and running speed.

Squats, lunges and running are among the most effective ways to strengthen the lower body.

Stretching

Stretching is a very important part of an exercise program for athletes in any sport. During exercise and play muscles contract. When muscles contract, they produce tension at the point where the muscle is connected to the tendon. Stretching helps lengthen, relax and restore muscles to their natural state.

Stretching following activity is as important as stretching while warming up before practice and play.

Some easy, yet effective stretches include:

  • Elbow Pulls – Raise the right arm as though asking a question and drop the forearm behind the head though leaving the elbow in the air. Pull the elbow to the left with the left arm until you feel the stretch, hold briefly then repeat several times. Do the same on the opposite side.
  • Cross Body Arm Pulls – Straighten your right arm and pull it across the front of your body, cradling the forearm and elbow with the left hand, pull the arm towards the left across the body until you feel the stretch. Hold the stretch briefly, then repeat on the opposite side.
  • Shoulder Stretch – Lay face down on a floor mat and stretch arms overhead to form a “Y,” with palms facing down on the floor. With forehead on the ground, retract shoulder blades while lifting arms off the ground (still outstretched). Hold for a couple of seconds while squeezing the shoulder blades together. Be careful not to “shrug” the shoulders up. Return to starting position and perform several sets of 10 repetitions. To work the back a little differently, perform this same exercise with the arms straight out to your sides, forming the shape of a “T.”
  • Runner’s Lunge – Position into a deep lunge on your right leg, drop the knee of your left leg and lean forward over the right quad until you feel the stretch, hold for several seconds. Repeat on opposite leg.
  • Hamstring Stretch – Stand flat on the floor with feet a little less than hip width apart. Lean forward and place palm of your hands flat on the floor just in front of your feet, hold for several seconds.

TOP PREVENTION TIP

Resting is as important as any of the components in a successful training program.

Track and Field Hand & Upper Extremity Injuries and Conditions

As track season sprints past, we begin to see some common overuse injuries and conditions in these athletes.  While the vast majority of those seen in track and field affect the lower body, there are several common hand and upper extremity injuries and conditions seen in throwing events such as the javelin, shot put, hammer and discus.

Between weekly practices and weekend competitions, overuse injuries and conditions in throwing events account for most upper extremity injuries in track and field. These overuse conditions often affect the rotator cuff and shoulder labrum. Overuse conditions are those resulting from the repetitive use of a particular limb/joint(s) and are frequently seen in baseball, swim and tennis as well.

Other track and field injuries include ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) tears of the elbow (also known as a Tommy John injury) and thumb.  Also metacarpal (hand) fractures are seen resulting from repeated stress on the small bones of the hand.

Rotator Cuff Injury

There are four tendons and muscles that make up what is known as the “rotator cuff,” providing coverage around the shoulder joint at the top of the humerus. The rotator cuff holds the arm in place and allows it to move with the broad range of motion we demand not only in everyday activity but also in many throwing sports. This broad range of motion, though, predisposes the shoulder to injury.  Repetitive stress on the rotator cuff can cause partial tears and swelling in the tendons.  A “high impact” stress, such as the powerful force required in these track and field throwing events, may cause one of the tendons to pull away from the bone or tear.rotator cuff injuries cropped

Rotator Cuff Injury Symptoms and Diagnosis

While most rotator cuff injuries can be slow to develop – producing nagging pain in the shoulder and arm, shoulder weakness and difficulty lifting the arm overhead – sometimes they can be quite sudden. In this case, athletes may feel a “pop,” followed by strong pain and a weakened arm.  An orthopedic specialist will assess the injury initially with a physical examination and review of the activity leading up to the injury.  This may be followed by a shoulder x-ray, MRI and/or arthrogram.  Treatment depends on the severity of the condition and will include a period of rehabilitation therapy. Conservative, nonsurgical treatment is often considered initially.  Surgery may be indicated if shoulder instability persists or there is a complete rotator cuff tear.

Shoulder Labrum Tear 

Another common track and field throwing injury is a shoulder labrum injury.  Among the most commonly diagnosed shoulder labrum condition in athletes involved in throwing sports is known as a SLAP (superior labrum, anterior to posterior) tear. The labrum works to keep the arm bone in the shoulder socket. When the ring of firm tissue that helps to make the shoulder more stable becomes stressed, it can result in a SLAP tear, compromising shoulder stability.    Often damage to the labrum occurs in those athletes who are also suffering from rotator cuff injury or weakness.slap-tear-1

SLAP Tear Symptoms and Diagnosis

Some of the common symptoms associated with SLAP disorders include a popping, clicking or catching in the shoulder during throwing activity, aching pain and feeling of weakness.  Beyond a physical examination, a diagnosis may include an MRI and/or an arthrogram.  Occasionally minimally invasive arthroscopy may be used to confirm a tear.  If a tear is confirmed, the surgeon may choose to repair it at the same time.

UCL (Ulnar Collateral Ligament) Injury

Ulnar Collateral Ligament (UCL) injuries of the elbow frequently occur in javelin as a result of the throwing motion and stress on the elbow.  Also known as a Tommy John injury, it is similar to the stress placed on the elbow in baseball.

The elbow is basically a “hinge” joint allowing not only bending and straightening but also rotation from palm up to palm down.  Several important ligaments in the elbow joint facilitate this range of motion, connecting the bones (ulna, radius, humerus) and forming part of a lubricating joint capsule.UCL of elbow

Two of the key ligaments for elbow joint stability  include the lateral collateral ligament and the UCL, which is also known as the medial collateral ligament because of its location on the elbow (inside).

When overuse of the joint (force on the soft tissue exceeds that of the structure’s tensile strength), such as in a throwing sport like javelin, places stress on the UCL, tears can develop.  The ligament stretches and lengthens to the point that it can no longer hold the bones tightly enough during throwing activities.

UCL Injury Symptoms and Diagnosis

Athletes suffering from this type of overuse condition may experience pain along the inside of the elbow, which is worse during the “acceleration phase” of throwing.  There may also be swelling, reduced range of motion and feeling of instability in the elbow.  Throwers may also have tingling or numbness in the “pinky” and ring fingers and experience difficulty throwing.

Diagnosis includes a physical examination, x-ray and an MRI.  Treatment is initially conservative and may include rest, ice and anti-inflammatory medications, along with physical therapy to strengthen surrounding muscles and compensate for the injured UCL.  Following this, or in more severe cases, a UCL reconstruction may be indicated. Also known as Tommy John surgery (named for the Los Angeles Dodgers’ pitcher who first underwent the surgery), the procedure entails taking a tendon from another area of the patient’s body and replacing the injured UCL with it.

Metacarpal (Hand) Fracture

While less common than overuse injuries and conditions, hand fractures can result from the repetitive stress and force placed on the small bones of the hand.

With a total of 27 bones in the hand (14 phalanges, five metacarpal, eight carpal), more than half of the bones making up the entire upper extremity,metacarpals fractures are inevitable in sports placing extreme and repeated stress on the hands.

One such fracture is known as a metacarpal fracture, which affects the bone at the base of the finger closest to the wrist.

Metacarpal Fracture Symptoms and Diagnosis

Metacarpal fractures will cause immediate pain and possibly visible deformity. The injured finger(s) may swell, and there may be some bruising.

A physical examination and an x-ray Metacarpal hand fracture repairwill identify the location and severity of the fracture.  Treatment is determined based on whether the fracture is “stable” or “unstable” and the extent of injury.  More severe cases may require surgery and internal fixation (K-wires or plates and screws), followed by a period of splinting and hand therapy.

Prevention and Treatment

Understanding that adequate rest between practices and events is as important as the training will help reduce the likelihood that an overuse condition will result in a tear or stress fracture. Maintaining balanced strength and conditioning of opposing muscle groups is also an important prevention component.

When symptoms are addressed early, the injury often responds well to conservative treatment.

Keeping Young Players in the Game This Season …. and the Next

Pitch Count Guidelines and Little League Recommendations

Last month we discussed the increase in injuries among Little Leaguers – particularly the prevalence of “Little Leaguer’s Elbow.”  We continue this discussion in this month’s blog with some of the things that the American Sports Medicine Institute (ASMI) and the USA Baseball, Little League Baseball and Major League Baseball organizations have done to ensure the safe play of our young athletes today….and tomorrow.

Avoiding little league injuries.

Pitch count regulations developed to reduce risk of injury in young players.

 New Recommendations

While curve balls are implicated in throwing injuries of the young athlete, because of inadequate physical development and neuromuscular control, scientific data does not yet support this.  Nonetheless, reducing the use of curve balls in Little League pitching is highly recommended.

Other recommendations include: 

  • Watching and responding to fatigue (decreased ball velocity/accuracy, upright trunk during pitching, dropped elbow during pitching, or increased time between pitches). If a youth pitcher complains of fatigue or looks fatigued, let him rest from pitching and other throwing.
  • No overhead throwing for at least two to three months per year (four months is preferred). No competitive baseball pitching for at least four months per year.
  • No pitching more than 100 innings in games – in any calendar year.
  • Follow limits for pitch counts and days of rest.
  • Avoid pitching on multiple teams with overlapping seasons.
  • Learn good throwing mechanics. First steps should be, in order: 1) basic throwing, 2) fastball pitching, 3) change-up pitching.
  • Avoid using radar guns.
  • A pitcher should not also be a catcher. The pitcher-catcher combination results in many throws and may increase the risk of injury.
  • If a pitcher complains of elbow or shoulder pain, discontinue pitching until evaluated by a sports medicine physician.

Pitch Count

The pitch count restrictions for Little League Baseball were established to reduce the number of overuse throwing injuries among these young players and vary by age.  While the complete pitch count restrictions/recommendations can be reviewed on the ASMI website (www.asmi.org ), below is a listing of the latest Little League “daily” limits.

Daily Limits
17-18 N/A 105/day
15-16 N/A 95/day
13-14 75/game 95/day
11-12 75/game 85/day
9-10 50/game 75/day
7-8 N/A 50/day

(Resources – recommendations and pitch count: American Sports Medicine Institute, Position Statement for Youth Baseball Pitchers http://www.asmi.org/research.php?page=research&section=positionStatement

 

Little Leaguer’s Elbow

With baseball season in full swing we begin to see an increase in upper extremity injuries in young athletes. One of the most common injuries we treat is a throwing injury known as medial apophysitis, or “Little Leaguer’s Elbow.”

This condition occurs when the repetitive stress of frequent throwing places excessive strain on the tendons, ligaments and cartilage of the elbow joint.  In the young player and immature elbow this is particularly concerning because of the damage it can cause to the growth plate.

The two “phases” of throwing which impact the elbow joint include the early acceleration phase (a pulling force on the growth plate of the inner elbow) and the throwing/release phase (strong inward and downward snap of the wrist).  A hinge and pivot joint, the elbow allows a broad range of motion.  The growth plate in the elbow, though, is comprised of growth cartilage – a soft substance that is not as strong as bone.  With repetitive stress, this growth cartilage can weaken, develop small fissures and in more severe cases pull apart from the bone. The repeated pulling can also tear ligaments and tendons away from the bone – possibly pulling tiny bone fragments with it.  In a young player, this could potentially disrupt normal bone growth and result in deformity.

Another less common though more serious throwing injury, known as Osteochondritis Dissecans, can occur in young athletes and involves the loosening and fragmenting of immature bone and cartilage. The pain associated with this condition is usually felt on the outside of the elbow.

Both prevention and early treatment of Little Leaguer’s Elbow are key for young players.

Symptoms of Little Leaguer’s Elbow

The most common symptom associated with Little Leaguer’s Elbow is pain on the inside of the elbow, which may be severe and occur abruptly, or mild – increasing in intensity, gradually over time.  Other symptoms may include swelling, redness and warmth over the inner elbow.  Range of motion may be restricted in some players, with an inability to straighten the elbow.

Diagnosis and Treatment

A physical examination and pain assessment will help diagnose Little Leaguer’s Elbow.  An X-ray or MRI may be indicated to assess irregularities in the elbow joint and growth plate damage.

When diagnosed early, nonsurgical treatment can effectively resolve the problem and may entail rest (refraining from throwing activity), as well as icing to reduce swelling.  Sports rehabilitation specialists may also be able to help young players refine their throwing technique to reduce stress on the elbow joint.

In more severe cases, surgery may be required to reattach a ligament and/or the bone or growth plate  – stabilizing the elbow joint.

Preventing Throwing Injuries in Little League Baseball

Understanding the impact of throwing injuries on the immature elbow is key for coaches, parents and players.  Risk of injury can be reduced by properly warming up and ensuring proper throwing technique.  And adequate rest is as equally important as practice for optimal performance.

The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) recommends that young pitchers play no more than three to four innings each game, to prevent throwing injuries.

Pitch Count Guidelines and Little League Regulations

As competition in youth sports intensify and seasons extend to include tournaments and World Series games, we are seeing an alarming increase in throwing injuries in the young player.  This has prompted the American Sports Medicine Institute, together with USA Baseball, Little League Baseball and Major League Baseball to examine the impact of excessive throwing on the young, skeletally immature athlete.  Their findings have translated into new regulations, pitch count guidelines and educational initiatives in Little League Baseball.

Next month we’ll talk about pitch count guidelines and its role in protecting young baseball players.

 

 

Platelet Rich Plasma Procedure, Among the Latest in Less Invasive Hand & Upper Extremity Treatment Options

While research efforts continue to assess the benefits of platelet-rich plasma (PRP) in the treatment of some orthopedic injuries and conditions, the clinical results for many, including some high-profile athletes such as Tiger Woods and Pittsburgh Steelers, Troy Polamalu and Hines Ward, are proving favorable.

PRP therapy is thought to accelerate healing by using the patient’s own “platelet rich plasma” and growth factors.  A small amount of a patient’s blood is taken and rotated in a centrifuge to separate red blood cells from platelets.  The concentrated platelets are then re-injected into the affected area – releasing growth factors that are believed to help the tissue recover more quickly.  The procedure is performed on elbows, shoulders, knees, hips and feet.

Initially PRP therapy was used to help athletes recover more quickly from an injury, accelerating recovery of arthroscopic cartilage and ligament repair.  Today, PRP injection therapy is used for some chronic tennis elbow and golfer’s elbow cases, as well as other cases of tendinitis.  The growth factors and stem cells that concentrated levels of the patient’s platelets activate not only promote more rapid healing but are also found to reduce pain and osteoarthritic symptoms and inflammation.

Tennis Elbow and Golfer’s Elbow

“Overuse conditions” affecting the muscles and tendons of the forearm where they attach at the outside of the elbow, tennis elbow (also known as lateral epicondylitis), or inside of the elbow and forearm as in golfer’s elbow (medial epicondylitis), are generally first addressed with conservative treatment – rest/activity modification, bracing, non steroidal anti inflammatory medication (NSAIDs).  Traditionally, patients continuing to suffer from chronic tennis elbow despite conservative treatment are recommended for surgery to address the affected tendons.  While arthroscopy has made surgical intervention less invasive, PRP therapy offers a non surgical option for chronic tennis elbow sufferers – providing relief for the pain and tenderness associated with the condition.

The Procedure

PRP therapy is a simple in office procedure and does not require a separate visit.  Patients opting for the therapy simply request it during their examination.  Results are usually evident within just a few days.

 

 

Pitcher’s Elbow

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Today’s youth sports are more demanding than ever.  Seasons are longer and the practice and game schedule is intense.  Though with proper training and the ability to understand what pain may be signaling, a career ending injury can be avoided.

One of the more common overuse sports injuries we see affects the elbow and is known as Pitcher’s Elbow.

Throwing a baseball, particularly repeatedly as a pitcher does, puts a tremendous amount of stress on the inside of the elbow.  This stress is concentrated on a ligament known as the ulnar collateral ligament (UCL).

Lateral Collateral Ligament / Ulnar Collateral Ligament

When there is pain on the inside of the elbow it may mean that the ligament has either been stretched or has micro-tears.  The goal is to avoid throwing to the point of such pain, as it may indicate that the damage is already done!

There are many factors that can lead to the injury of a young player’s elbow ligament.  The main problem is throwing too much.  Often times this player is young, talented and needed in much of the game in order for the team to win.  The player then gets “overplayed,” until the elbow pain prevents further throwing.  The team must then find another pitcher and the cycle repeats.

Below are some suggestions that will hopefully help young pitchers – enabling them to mature and develop their full potential before an injury cuts their season short:

1. Pitch Count

The definitive pitch count guideline generally adopted comes from the 1996 American Sports Medicine Institute (ASMI) study.  This guideline includes maximum pitches per day, and days of rest between pitching.  Below are websites that include more information on this.

2. All Season Baseball

As our youth become more competitive, they begin to play year round.  This includes spring…..and now also summer and fall.  The elbow never gets a chance to rest and re-strengthen.  Ideally, the young athlete would pursue a different sport during the off-season – engaging different muscles, ligaments and tendons.  If baseball is the only sport, the pitcher must limit the amount of pitching during the off-season and work on some of the other influencing factors listed below.

 3. Pitching Mechanics

The mechanics of pitching are often left to the weekend warrior coach.  It may be worthwhile to find a professional pitching coach who can not only see the subtle corrections that need to be made, but also find a way to help the player make these adjustments as they throw at ever increasing velocity.  Consider that the player is developing as he gets older.  This means that the lessons from last year may no longer apply.  Players are not only getting taller, but developing more muscle.  This will impact their pitching mechanics.  A player should be re-evaluated every year or two.

 4. The Shoulder

Pitching is a rotation sport!  The windup starts in the body and gets transmitted to the hand via the shoulder and elbow.  If the shoulder is weak, the elbow must compensate.  This leads to injury.  It is important to strengthen the shoulder, chest and back in order to support this movement.  Specifically, it is important to strengthen the shoulder muscles that rotate the shoulder called the rotator cuff.  It is also important to strengthen the muscles that control the shoulder blade (scapula).  Young players have open growth plates in their bones, and injury to these growth plates are avoided by keeping the weight low.  The goal is not to build bulk but rather to build strength and stamina.  Weight training is best done in the off-season.   Smaller muscles like the rotator cuff can be exercised two or three times per week.  More than three times a week will weaken and not strengthen these muscles.  Finally, it is important to stretch the shoulder joint, especially the posterior capsule.  This is done by bringing the arm across the body and feeling the stretch on the back of the shoulder.

5. Fatigue

There is a difference between strength and fatigue.  As the game progresses, the muscles become fatigued.  The player, in their effort to maintain speed, start to use other muscles and change their throwing mechanics.  This then leads to increased strain on the elbow and ultimately to injury.  This may be avoided by strengthening the upper muscles in the off-season and by watching the pitch count during the season.

6. Addressing an already painful elbow

Pain in the elbow could indicate that the elbow is injured.  The first step is to stop playing baseball and seek the assessment of an orthopedic specialist.

–  Once pain is resolved and the tenderness is completely gone, initiate a strengthening program focusing on muscles of the chest, back and shoulders

– After the strengthening program is well on its way, the player should seek an evaluation by a professional pitching coach.

-Gradually the player will increase pitching distance and speed – with particular focus on proper mechanics

– After completing these steps, players can return to the regular season.

Typically, once a player has elbow pain they generally require about six months to complete the steps above.  Since the pain often occurs at the start or middle of a pitching season, this usually means that they will lose out on the remainder of that season.  Though, this is preferable to permanently damaging the arm and eliminating any chance of playing another season.

Helpful Websites:

www.qcbaseball.com

www.WebBall.com

www.littleleague.org   (pitch count regulation)

www.pitchsmarter.com