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.

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.