The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) says that sports-related shoulder injuries are generally more prevalent among elite athletes who participate in sports that involve excessive and repetitive overhead motion. Examples of such sports include volleyball, weightlifting, baseball, tennis and swimming. Moreover, a 2015 study published in the Clinics in Sports Medicine Journal found that shoulder injuries accounted for about 28% of all disabled days in Major League Baseball, with pitchers been 34% more likely to suffer shoulder injuries compared with fielders. With that in mind, here is some more information about this topic.
An Overview of Shoulder Injuries among Elite Athletes
To achieve peak velocity and accuracy in a throwing sport, such as shot put or javelin, an athlete typically must achieve precise glenohumeral joint rotation and coupling of the scapulothoracic motion, as well as transfer as much force as possible from the rest of his/body, particularly the legs and core, to the throwing arm. Unfortunately, this essentially means the athlete must subject his/her dominant shoulder to tremendous stress and even extreme positions. Over time, factors such as poor mechanics and muscle fatigue may cause the athlete to suffer a shoulder injury.
Common Shoulder Injuries among Throwing Athlete
Some the most common sports-related shoulder injuries among elite throwing athletes include:
SLAP Tears (Superior Labrum Anterior to Posterior)
As the name suggests, this type of injury involves a tear in both sides of the superior (top) labrum, which is essentially the region of the shoulder where the long head of the biceps tendon connects to the labrum. The most common causes of a SLAP tear, which is also known as a labral tear, include repeated overhead motion and acute traumatic event, such as falling awkwardly on the shoulder on onto an outstretched arm. Some of the common symptoms associated with SLAP tears include, deep pain within the area and a locking or catching sensation. In extreme cases, a SLAP tear can be a season-ending injury.
The biceps muscle consists of a short head and a long head tendon, which attach the muscle to the coracoids and labrum, respectively. While the short head tendon is hardly ever injured, the long head tendon is typically susceptible to repetitive motion injury. This means that elite athletes such as pitchers are more likely to suffer this type of injury. In pitchers, this injury often manifests itself as severe pain in the affected area. However, in some cases, the symptoms may be vague, for example, earlier fatiguing, loss of control and difficulty warming up. To diagnose this injury, physicians generally perform a physical exam. Additional tests such as an ultrasound and an MRI may be necessary to confirm the diagnosis. High-profile pitchers who have suffered this injury in recent years include Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw.
Rotator Cuff Tendinitis and Tears
Affecting the tendon and muscles that help to move the shoulder, this injury is also commonly referred to as impingement syndrome. It is particularly common among athletes who participate in sports that require repetitive overhead motion, such as basketball and baseball. It is typically characterized by inflammation or irritation of the rotator cuff tendons. Some of the common symptoms associated with this injury include pain in the affected area, as well as loss of mobility and strength. Unlike rotator cuff tendinitis, a rotator cuff tear, as the name implies, is characterized by a tear in the rotator cuff tendons, especially the supraspinatus tendon.
Throwing athletes typically subject their shoulders to repetitive and excessive strain. Because of this, such athletes tend to suffer from sports-related shoulder injuries over time. These injuries include, among others, rotator cuff tendinitis and tears, bicep tendonitis and SLAP tears.