As the two most mobile and versatile joints in your body, your shoulders give your arms and upper back the wide range of motion they need to shoot a basket, swing a golf club, swim the butterfly stroke — and pitch a baseball.
But this impressive mobility comes with a price: Compared to your other joints, your shoulders are also more susceptible to instability, impingement, inflammation, and injury.
Here at Sports Medicine Oregon in Tigard and Wilsonville, Oregon, our expert orthopedists specialize in diagnosing, treating, and preventing sports injuries, including common shoulder problems that affect many baseball pitchers.
If you’re a pitcher, here’s what you should know about your shoulder joint.
Your versatile, vulnerable shoulder joint
Your shoulder is a ball-and-socket joint, meaning the rounded, top end of your upper arm bone (humerus) fits into a hollow-like structure (glenoid) in your shoulder blade (scapula). But unlike the trailer hitch on the back of a car, your shoulder socket isn’t compact and tight-fitting — it’s shallow and versatile.
The shoulder socket is lined with soft tissue called the labrum. This tissue creates a deeper socket that molds to fit the round humeral head. Your shoulder ball is kept firmly in its socket by a group of muscles and tendons known as the rotator cuff. Its shallow structural design, combined with its resilient and supportive soft tissues, gives each shoulder joint tremendous mobility and range of motion.
The shoulder joint is fully capable of adduction, abduction, flexion, extension, internal rotation, external rotation, and 360° circumduction in the sagittal plane. Unfortunately, this excellent motion-facilitating structure is also more vulnerable to injury — especially when it’s used often or routinely pushed to the max.
How overhead pitching affects your shoulder
Pitching a baseball is the fastest human motion in any sports activity, and it’s one that puts a lot of demand, stress, and strain on the shoulder. Several biomechanical actions, or phases, take place in a single pitch:
- Early cocking
- Late cocking
Two of these action phases — the late cocking phase and the follow-through phase — exert significant force on your shoulder. As you bring your arm up and behind your body to help generate maximum pitch speed during the late cocking phase, your shoulder can experience forces equal to half your body weight. As you release the ball and enter the follow-through phase, your rotator cuff tightens to decelerate your arm.
Here’s how “pitcher’s shoulder” develops
Overhead pitching places your shoulder joint under intense, repetitive strain. If you don’t rest your shoulder properly between training sessions and games — and if your form is off or your shoulder muscles are imbalanced from an inadequate training regimen — you’re more likely to sustain a shoulder injury.
When part of a soft tissue structure in your shoulder is weakened by repetitive stress, other structures take on more of the workload. While the shoulder muscles can initially compensate for rotator cuff overload, ongoing compensation can give rise to fatigue that makes it more challenging to maintain proper shoulder mechanics.
Left unaddressed, persistent joint imbalance and fatigue undermines overall shoulder stability and leads to painful rotator cuff injuries like inflammation, impingement, and even tearing.
Treating and preventing pitcher’s shoulder
Acute shoulder pain, decreased performance, and reduced velocity are the most common symptoms of pitcher’s shoulder, both among baseball pitchers and other athletes who perform repetitive overhand motions (tennis, volleyball, and football players).
Throwing pain is often a result of inflamed or irritated rotator cuff tendons. In some cases, the shoulder may even feel loose in its socket. As with any shoulder injury, the severity and nature of the trauma determines our treatment approach, which may include:
- Rest and activity modification
- Anti-inflammatory pain medication
- Joint immobilization or bracing
- Integrated physical therapy exercises
- Joint injections; regenerative medicine
If you have a torn rotator cuff, minimally invasive rotator cuff repair surgery may be necessary before you can get back in the game. Once you’re on the mend, our team works alongside you to develop a program to help you stay in the best possible shape for your sport.
To prevent future pitching injuries, establishing a quality arm care program should be your top priority — proper shoulder conditioning, excellent throwing mechanics, and requisite recovery time can help you prevent pitching-related injuries.
If you have questions about sports medicine or injury prevention, our skilled orthopedic team can help. Call or click online to schedule a visit at your nearest Sports Medicine Oregon office in Tigard or Wilsonville, Oregon, today.