Are You Striking Out Due To Elbow Pain?

Sports that require frequent throwing, such as football and baseball, require a strong, highly functioning arm. These athletes throw hundreds of times per week in practice and games. As a result, elbow pain in the throwing arm is possible. While some cases are mild in nature, others are more severe, like an ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) injury. A quick assessment of elbow pain can help locate the source of the injury so the athlete can get the appropriate treatment, such as surgery.


Is your elbow pain a UCL tear?

The UCL is vital for elbow strength, stability, and athletic performance. The ulnar collateral ligament is a band of tissue that’s located on the inner elbow, connecting the upper arm bone to the forearm. The UCL prevents excessive stretching and rotation, especially when throwing. A UCL injury is a stretch or tear of the ligament caused by overuse or a sudden acute injury. UCL injuries are often defined as pain in the inner elbow, especially when throwing. Other key signs are swelling, discomfort, and limited range of motion (ROM). In some cases, a popping sound is heard at the time of the injury. Athletes will also be unable to throw with maximum power or velocity. UCL injuries are severe for throwing athletes and need extensive recovery time.

Other potential causes of elbow pain

While UCL tears are a potential source of elbow pain, other causes exist. For instance, medial epicondylitis, or golfer’s elbow, is a common cause of chronic elbow pain. With medial epicondylitis, there is soreness or pain inside the arm and elbow. The tendons and muscles of the forearm that attach to the bony bump of the elbow become inflamed, leading to pain and discomfort. Flexor tendinitis is another condition that can start in the hand but run down to the forearm and elbow. Other causes of elbow pain include bone spurs, nerve entrapment, or a UCL sprain. Each condition may present specific symptoms such as nerve pain, soreness, and limited flexibility.

When should you seek medical attention?

Elbow pain and soreness are typical in throwing sports, with many cases subsiding after short rest periods and treatment such as icing or bracing. There may be an underlying condition when the pain is consistent and interferes with performance. Moreover, medical attention should be sought immediately if the pain is sharp and sudden after a throw or collision on the field. An injury like a UCL tear can only be diagnosed with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and physical tests performed by a doctor. If the issue is a UCL tear or an unrelated injury, the medical team can devise the best treatment for a faster return to sports.

What are your treatment options?

Treatment is determined based on the type and severity of injury. Most elbow conditions respond to non-surgical options, combining rest and physical therapy (PT) with pain medication and bracing. This is often enough to treat mild strains or conditions like medial epicondylitis with time. Severe injuries, on the other hand, like partial or complete UCL tears, require surgery. A minimally invasive surgical procedure can reattach the damaged ligament to the bone with sutures. This procedure is vital to restoring long-term function. Elbow surgery requires extensive rehabilitation, with some athletes needing 6-9 months or more before returning to sports.

Restore your elbow function

Elbow pain is a condition that can limit performance, especially in throwing sports. A proper diagnosis is key for identifying the root cause and applying treatment. A UCL tear is the most severe form of elbow injury, requiring surgery and lengthy rehabilitation. The goal for any athlete is to get prompt treatment while being patient and consistent with recovery. With guidance from the medical team, athletes can start throwing again with minimal pain or discomfort.

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