Your Elbow Isn’t Your Problem—Part 1

The weather is getting warmer, and the days are getting longer, which can only mean one thing- spring is on its way. While I’m sure spring brings excitement to everyone for different reasons, the only acceptable reason to be excited about spring is baseball/softball season! With baseball and softball starting to ramp up, I thought it’d be a good time to talk about the most common pain experience with most throwing athletes- elbow pain.

Elbow pain is widespread among athletes who throw a ball for fun – football, baseball, softball etc. I’ve learned through my experience playing baseball and in the clinic that elbow pain is RARELY an elbow problem. Actually, elbow pain is usually a shoulder, spine, and sometimes even hip problem. To illustrate this, I want to talk about REGIONAL INTERDEPENDENCE.

In the picture above, certain joints are labeled either STABLE or MOBILE, and it works in an alternating pattern. Stable joints have a mobile joint on both sides of it, and vice versa. The important takeaway is that the elbow is STABLE, while the shoulder, thoracic spine, and hips are all MOBILE. What we find with movement is that if any of these mobile joints are limited with their mobility, our bodies try to create more motion in the stable joints that surround them. When this happens, we try to create more movement in joints that aren’t designed to move.

With throwing athletes, we know how much shoulder, thoracic spine, and hip motion should be present to throw a ball efficiently. When any of these joints become limited, the elbow is what we use to try and create more mobility as a compensation. When we take this compensation and throw a ball 100+ times a day at practice, we are repeatedly putting stress on our elbow ligaments (i.e. UCL), which over time can cause pain. Do you ever wonder why ice and rest don’t prevent your elbow from hurting all season long? While these may help temporarily relieve the pain, the next time you pick up a ball to throw the root cause of the pain never got addressed.

In coming posts, I want to go more in-depth on each of the body segments that I find to be the typical culprits of elbow pain with throwing athletes and what you can do to prevent this. In the meantime, if elbow pain is something you struggle with, or if you want to get assessed to make sure everything is moving as it should, please reach out and we can work together to get you moving as efficiently as possible!

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