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Pitchers: improving mobility can prevent Tommy John injury

Spring is in the air – and that means baseball. Even though we’re not sure if this year’s season will proceed on schedule, it’s best to be prepared. So, we’re talking “Tommy John.” It affects other athletes, too, but baseball players are at higher risk for injuring the ulnar collateral ligament – the UCL. 

ulnar collateral ligament

These ligaments of the elbow are tough, flexible bands that connect the bones of the lower arm with the upper arm. They act as very sophisticated hinges, allowing the lower arm to bend and twist, powered by arm muscles. Pitchers are particularly prone to UCL problems – like many injuries, a result of years of repetitive motion that puts the joint under abnormal stress. 

Anyone performing repetitive motion with the arms is potentially at risk, including tennis and volleyball players and football quarterbacks. Steelers’ QB Ben Roethlisberger was benched by a UCL tear in 2019.

Prevention better than the cure

A torn UCL is debilitating and painful. It almost always requires surgical reconstruction. Afterwards, the arm is immobilized for weeks and carefully exercised as the tissue heals for many months. A torn UCL can bench an athlete for a year or more. That’s why prevention is so important.

Active Release Techniques®

Chiropractic can play a role, with sophisticated and field-proven therapies, including ART – Active Release Techniques®. Like many orthopedic injuries, symptoms in one area often signal problems in another. The elbow ligaments are just one link in the chain of bone, muscle, ligament and tendons that make up the complex system that powers arm movement. It’s not unlike problems in the knee stemming from issues higher up, in the quads and glutes.

Increase mobility, reduce stress

After years of repetitive motion, scar tissue builds up that reduces performance – a situation tailor-made for ART therapy. We use it to increase mobility and optimize the entire chain – especially the muscles of the shoulder that support the upper arm. 

The athletes we can help are experiencing early warning signs. A mild biceps strain, pain in the front part of the shoulder, a stiff or sore elbow. These issues come and go and can respond to rest. But without intervention – especially if the throwing mechanics are off – they invariably come back with return to play.

We concentrate on the big picture – the muscles and associated tissues around the rotator cuff, shoulder blade, neck, biceps, deltoids and other areas. Combined with good mechanics and regular strength training, chiropractic can support a healthy arm that’s less prone to injury. Sometimes it only takes a few visits, opening up new possibilities. 

But range of motion is just one piece of the puzzle, along with good supervision and mechanics. We recommend athletes work carefully with their coaches, trainers and rehabilitation experts to keep the entire arm healthy and at peak performance.