Are the athletes involved in throwing activities more at risk of shoulder injury?

Are the athletes involved in throwing activities more at risk of shoulder injury?

Dr Nataraj H M , Orthopedic Surgeon and Shoulder Specialist educates patients that the shoulder joint of Athletes undergo enormous amount of physical changes. Also the ‘repetitive movements’ at shoulder makes it more prone to injuries.

In sports such as basketball, volleyball, cricket(especially bowlers and fielders) tennis, badminton etc the shoulder stability is challenged through repetitive overhead activity. High stress during throwing make these athletes susceptible to variety of throwing injuries such as tendinitis, tears, impingement and instability.

Common Throwing Injuries In the Shoulder :

SLAP Tears (Superior Labrum Anterior to Posterior)– In a SLAP injury, the top (superior) part of the labrum is injured. This top area is also where the long head of the biceps tendon attaches to the labrum.

Typical symptoms are a catching or locking sensation, and pain with certain shoulder movements. Pain deep within the shoulder or with certain arm positions is also common.

Bicep Tendinitis and Tendon Tears – Repetitive throwing can inflame and irritate the upper biceps tendon. This is called biceps tendinitis. Pain in the front of the shoulder and weakness are common symptoms of biceps tendinitis.

Occasionally, the damage to the tendon caused by tendinitis can result in a tear. A torn biceps tendon may cause a sudden, sharp pain in the upper arm. Some people will hear a popping or snapping noise when the tendon tears.

Rotator Cuff Tendinitis and Tears– When a muscle or tendon is overworked, it can become inflamed. The rotator cuff is frequently irritated in throwers, resulting in tendinitis.
Early symptoms include pain that radiates from the front of the shoulder to the side of the arm. Pain may be present during throwing and at rest. As the problem progresses, pain may occur at night, and the athlete may experience a loss of strength and motion.

Rotator cuff tears often begin by fraying. As the damage worsens, the tendon can tear. When one or more of the rotator cuff tendons is torn, the tendon no longer fully attaches to the head of the humerus. Most tears in throwing athletes occur in the supraspinatus tendon.

Problems with the rotator cuff often lead to shoulder bursitis. There is a lubricating sac called a bursa between the rotator cuff and the bone on top of your shoulder (acromion). The bursa allows the rotator cuff tendons to glide freely when you move your arm. When the rotator cuff tendons are injured or damaged, this bursa can also become inflamed and painful.

Internal Impingement– During the cocking phase of an overhand throw, the rotator cuff tendons at the back of the shoulder can get pinched between the humeral head and the glenoid. This is called internal impingement and may result in a partial tearing of the rotator cuff tendon. Internal impingement may also damage the labrum, causing part of it to peel off from the glenoid.

Internal impingement may be due to some looseness in the structures at the front of the joint, as well as tightness in the back of the shoulder.

Shoulder dislocation or instability– Shoulder instability occurs when the head of the humerus slips out of the shoulder socket (dislocation). When the shoulder is loose and moves out of place repeatedly, it is called chronic shoulder instability.

In throwers, instability develops gradually over years from repetitive throwing that stretches the ligaments and creates increased laxity (looseness). If the rotator cuff structures are not able to control the laxity, then the shoulder will slip slightly off-center (subluxation) during the throwing motion.

Pain and loss of throwing velocity will be the initial symptoms, rather than a sensation of the shoulder “slipping out of place.” Occasionally, the thrower may feel the arm “go dead.” A common term for instability many years ago was “dead arm syndrome.”

Glenohumeral Internal Rotation Deficit (GIRD)– As mentioned above, the extreme external rotation required to throw at high speeds typically causes the ligaments at the front of the shoulder to stretch and loosen. A natural and common result is that the soft tissues in the back of the shoulder tighten, leading to loss of internal rotation.

This loss of internal rotation puts throwers at greater risk for labral and rotator cuff tears.

Scapular Rotation Dysfunction (SICK Scapula) – Proper movement and rotation of the scapula over the back of the chest wall is important during the throwing motion. The scapula (shoulder blade) connects to only one other bone: the clavicle. As a result, the scapula relies on several muscles in the upper back to keep it in position to support healthy shoulder movement.

During throwing, repetitive use of scapular muscles creates changes in the muscles that affect the position of the scapula and increase the risk of shoulder injury.

Scapular rotation dysfunction is characterized by drooping of the affected shoulder. The most common symptom is pain at the front of the shoulder, near the collarbone.

In many throwing athletes with SICK scapula, the chest muscles tighten in response to changes in the upper back muscles. Lifting weights and chest strengthening exercises can aggravate this condition.

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