What to Know About Pitcher’s Elbow

Pitcher’s elbow, also known as valgus extension overload (VEO), predominantly affects athletes engaged in activities that involve repetitive overhead throwing motions, especially baseball pitchers. However, it is not just limited to professional players.

Pitcher’s elbow can impact individuals of varying skill levels and ages who engage in sports or activities that put similar stress on the elbow joint. Beyond baseball pitchers, those who participate in activities like tennis, volleyball, javelin throwing, and certain occupations involving repetitive arm motions (like painters, carpenters, or mechanics) can also experience similar elbow injuries due to the strain on the tendons and muscles.

Understanding the causes, treatment options, and the role of physical therapy in addressing pitcher’s elbow is crucial for athletes aiming to recover and prevent any future injuries. This article will discuss what you need to know about pitcher’s elbow.

Understanding Pitcher’s Elbow

Pitcher’s elbow affects the inner side of the elbow, specifically the tendons that support the elbow. The repetitive stress put on these tendons during overhead throwing motions causes microtears and inflammation, leading to pain and discomfort.

Causes — The primary cause of pitcher’s elbow is repetitive and forceful movement involved in pitching or similar activities. Factors contributing to this injury include:

Overuse — High-frequency pitching without adequate rest periods can strain the elbow tendons. With rigorous and repetitive use, there is no proper rest time for the tendons to recover, leading to microtears, inflammation, and eventual injury.

Poor Technique — Incorrect pitching mechanics can significantly impact the stress placed on the elbow joint. Correct pitching mechanics are fundamental to evenly distribute the forces exerted during each throw. Any heightened stress becomes a breeding ground for developing pitcher’s elbow. 

Muscle Imbalances — The intricate balance among the muscles supporting the elbow joint is crucial for its stability and proper function during pitching. Weaknesses or imbalances in these muscle groups can disrupt the movement patterns required for an efficient throw. The disruption compromises the joint’s stability and increases susceptibility to injury because of the uneven distribution of stress.

The cumulative effect of these contributing factors amplifies the risk of developing pitcher’s elbow. Athletes engaged in high-intensity, repetitive throwing motions bear the brunt of these risk factors, making them particularly susceptible to this injury. Addressing these elements through proper training, rest periods, technique refinement, and muscular balance exercises becomes imperative in preventing and managing pitcher’s elbow.

Symptoms — Recognizing the symptoms of pitcher’s elbow is essential to intervene as soon as possible and with the most effective management for the condition. There are a few common symptoms to look for:

Pain and Tenderness — Individuals with pitcher’s elbow often experience persistent discomfort and tenderness on the inner side of the elbow. This pain may intensify during activities involving arm movements, particularly throwing motions. 

Limited Range of Motion — Difficulty fully extending or flexing the elbow is a common manifestation. This restriction in movement can hinder regular activities and sports performance.

Elbow Weakness and Instability — A sense of weakness or instability in the elbow joint might accompany pitcher’s elbow. This sensation can impact an individual’s confidence in using their arm and might lead to decreased functional ability.

Swelling and Inflammation — Visible swelling and inflammation around the area are typical indicators of pitcher’s elbow. This swelling may also feel warm and look red, meaning there is an inflammatory response in the elbow area.

Individuals with pitcher’s elbow also might experience discomfort while doing day-to-day tasks that involve gripping or lifting objects. It’s important to note that these symptoms may vary in intensity and presentation in different people, and it may get worse with continued strain and repetition involving the elbow joint.

Seeking medical attention upon experiencing these symptoms can mean a more timely diagnosis and appropriate treatment strategies to manage pitcher’s elbow effectively. 

Treatment Options for Pitcher’s Elbow

Addressing pitcher’s elbow promptly can prevent it from worsening and aid in a quicker recovery. Treatment options often include:

Rest and Avoiding Activity — Allowing the elbow to rest and avoiding movement that exacerbates the pain is essential for healing.

Ice and Compression — Applying ice packs and using compression sleeves can help reduce inflammation and alleviate pain. 

Medication — Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) may be recommended to manage pain and reduce swelling.

Physical Therapy — Physical therapy plays an important role in rehabilitating pitcher’s elbow by focusing on strengthening the muscles, increasing flexibility, and teaching the proper biomechanics.

The Role of Physical Therapy

There are various reasons why throwing can lead to a painful elbow. Physical therapy enhances mobility and strength in the muscles and joints, which is essential for proper throwing.

Initially, it targets pain relief, aiming to prevent future injury by boosting the elbow’s resilience to stress. Strengthening and increasing mobility not only aid in recovery but also enhance performance when returning to competition or work.

Benefits of Physical Therapy

A structured physical therapy program can offer numerous benefits when recovering from pitcher’s elbow.

Pain Reduction — Targeted exercises and therapies help alleviate pain and discomfort associated with the injury.

Improved Strength and Flexibility — Physical therapy aims to strengthen muscles and improve flexibility, aiding in a quicker and more comprehensive recovery.

Enhanced Performance — Correcting biomechanical faults and optimizing movement patterns can improve overall performance and reduce the risk of re-injury. 

Preventative Measures — Learning proper techniques and exercises can significantly reduce the likelihood of any future elbow injuries.

Improve Performance  —  By focusing on optimizing biomechanics, muscle function, and overall movement patterns. 

Physical Therapy for Athletes 

Pitcher’s elbow is a challenging injury for athletes, especially baseball pitchers, and it demands a more timely and comprehensive treatment for effective recovery and future injury prevention. A vital component of this recovery is physical therapy, which not only heals the injury but also helps the athlete’s overall strength, function, and confidence, reducing the risk of reinjury.

At Pro+Kinetix Physical Therapy and Performance, we specialize in delivering exceptional care. Our approach involves personalized, one-on-one sessions with a dedicated physical therapy doctor. Unlike many clinics, our commitment extends well beyond the clinic doors; we offer around-the-clock accessibility.

If you are navigating the challenges of pitcher’s elbow, Pro+Kinetix Physical Therapy and Performance offers a transformative path toward recovery. Take the first step toward healing and ensuring a vibrant athletic future.

Contact us today to start your healing journey. We are here every step of the way as you improve your well-being and prioritize your athletic success.

Oakland, CA Pain Management Clinic
AUTHOR

Dr. Ben Bagge

Pro+Kinetix Physical Therapy & Performance

"We Help Active Adults & Athletes Get Back To Workouts and Sports They Enjoy without surgery, stopping activities they love, or relying on pain medicine."
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