Repetitive Arm Motions Can Cause Ailments
With baseball and softball season right around the corner, players’ shoulder muscles are going to see a lot of use. Unfortunately, it’s also prime time for shoulder injuries. Rotator cuff injuries are one of the most common shoulder ailments and usually happen in athletes who use repetitive arm motions, such as baseball and softball pitchers and tennis players.
The rotator cuff is made up of four muscles that help to stabilize the shoulder. While an accident such as a fall and age can damage the rotator cuff and cause pain, repetitive motion is the No. 1 culprit. Rotator cuff pain is felt at the shoulder can sometimes radiate down the arm.
Rest is usually the first recommendation for anyone experiencing shoulder pain. But if pain persists, it’s vital to see a medical provider since left untreated, a rotator cuff injury can lead to permanent stiffness or weakness. Depending on how serious they are, rotary cuff injuries can be treated several ways, including physical therapy, injections and surgery.
During physical therapy, a therapist teaches the patient different exercises that restore flexibility while strengthening the shoulder. If therapy doesn’t help, a steroid injection is sometimes the next step. The injections can help when the shoulder pain interferes with daily activities, but are not a long-term solution since patients can only receive so many steroid injections before they lose their effectiveness.
When injections and physical therapy aren’t enough, surgery is needed, says Brett Young, MD, an orthopedic surgeon with ThedaCare Orthopedic Care who sees patients in New London.
“If physical therapy or injections don’t work or the injury is too severe, surgery is the ideal choice,” he says. “There’s many different options and we work with patients to see what makes the most sense. They are a key part of the decision-making process and healthcare team.”
Depending on the injury, possible surgical solutions for rotator cuff issues include arthroscopic tendon repair, open tendon repair, bone spur removal and shoulder replacement, Dr. Young says.
“Communication is important when patients decide to have surgery,” he says. “I talk with them so they know what to expect before and after the surgery and what the recovery process looks like. That way, they can make informed decisions.”
Proper warm-up and stretching before any shoulder intensive activity, such as pitching or playing tennis, can help reduce the risk of injury. It’s also important to take a break from doing the same motion over and over again. For example, if your child or teen pitches, talk with the coach about limiting the number of times he or she hurls the ball over the plate in a game or practice. A good coach will want to limit repetitions to keep the shoulder joint and muscles healthy. While limiting pitches and stretching can’t prevent all injuries, they can help lower the risk.