Shoulder Pain In Throwing Athlete

Shoulder Pain In Throwing Athlete

Treatment of the overhead throwing athlete is among the more challenging aspects of orthopaedic sports medicine. Awareness and understanding of the throwing motion and the supraphysiologic forces to which the structures of the shoulder are subjected are essential to diagnosis and treatment. Pain and dysfunction in the throwing shoulder may be attributed to numerous etiologies, including scapular dysfunction, intrinsic glenohumeral pathology (capsulolabral structures), extrinsic musculature (rotator cuff), or neurovascular structures. Attention to throwing mechanics and appropriate stretching, strength, and conditioning programs may reduce the risk of injury in this highly demanding activity.


Your shoulder is a ball-and-socket joint made up of three bones: the upper arm bone (humerus), the shoulder blade (scapula), and the collarbone (clavicle).

The head of the upper arm bone fits into a rounded socket in the shoulder blade. This socket is called the glenoid. Surrounding the outside edge of the glenoid is a rim of strong, fibrous tissue called the labrum. The labrum helps to deepen the socket and stabilize the shoulder joint. It also serves as an attachment point for many of the ligaments of the shoulder, as well as one of the tendons from the biceps muscle in the arm.

Strong connective tissue, called the shoulder capsule, is the ligament system of the shoulder and keeps the head of the upper arm bone centered in the glenoid socket. This tissue covers the shoulder joint and attaches the upper end of the arm bone to the shoulder blade.Your shoulder also relies on strong tendons and muscles to keep your shoulder stable. Some of these muscles are called the rotator cuff. The rotator cuff is made up of four muscles that come together as tendons to form a covering or cuff of tissue around the head of the humerus.



When athletes throw repeatedly at high speed, significant stresses are placed on the anatomical structures that keep the humeral head centered in the glenoid socket.Of the five phases that make up the pitching motion, the late cocking and follow-through phases place the greatest forces on the shoulder.

  • Late-cocking phase. In order to generate maximum pitch speed, the thrower must bring the arm and hand up and behind the body. This arm position of extreme external rotation helps the thrower put speed on the ball; however, it also forces the head of the humerus forward, which places significant stress on the ligaments in the front of the shoulder. Over time, the ligaments loosen, resulting in greater external rotation and greater pitching speed, but less shoulder stability.
  • Follow-through phase. During acceleration, the arm rapidly rotates internally. Once the ball is released, follow-through begins and the ligaments and rotator cuff tendons at the back of the shoulder must absorb significant stresses to decelerate the arm and control the humeral head.

When one structure — such as the ligament system — becomes weakened due to repetitive stresses, other structures must handle the overload. As a result, the throwing athlete can sustain a wide range of shoulder injuries.

The rotator cuff and labrum are the shoulder structures most vulnerable to throwing injuries.

Common Throwing Injuries In the Shoulder

SLAP Tears (Superior Labrum Anterior to Posterior)

In a SLAP injury, the top (superior) part of the labrum is injured. This top area is also where the long head of the biceps tendon attaches to the labrum. A SLAP tear occurs both in front (anterior) and in back (posterior) of this attachment point.

Typical symptoms are a catching or locking sensation, and pain with certain shoulder movements. Pain deep within the shoulder or with certain arm positions, like late-cocking is also common.

Bicep Tendinitis and Tendon Tears

Repetitive throwing can inflame and irritate the upper biceps tendon. This is called biceps tendinitis. Pain in the front of the shoulder and weakness are common symptoms of biceps tendinitis.

Occasionally, the damage to the tendon caused by tendinitis can result in a tear. A torn biceps tendon may cause a sudden, sharp pain in the upper arm. Some people will hear a popping or snapping noise when the tendon tears.

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