How are shoulder and elbow overuse injuries treated?

DSC_3897According to the sports medicine physicians at Midwest Orthopaedics at Rush (MOR) and Illinois athletic trainers, treatment for shoulder and elbow overuse injuries can be as simple as reducing the intensity, duration or frequency of the movement causing pain. In most cases, they will also recommend the athlete refrain from play for a period of time in order to rest the injured area. Ice and over-the-counter inflammatory medications can also help reduce inflammation and pain. Depending on the condition, physical therapy is often recommended.

If the injury is severe enough, surgery may be necessary. For instance, arthroscopic instability surgery may be necessary to keep the shoulder joint from repeatedly dislocating. For baseball pitchers with an ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) tear, orthopedic surgeons will perform Tommy John surgery, named after the former Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher. More formally known as UCL reconstruction, the surgeon takes a tendon from the forearm and uses it to repair the injured ligament and stabilize the joint.

DSC_1987For any shoulder or elbow injury, patients should find a board-certified orthopedic surgeon who has completed more than 100 procedures. Surgery is typically followed by a course of physical therapy and a careful return to play evaluation. Flexibility exercises, gentle stretching and strength training will improve range of motion and will prevent the shoulder and elbow from stiffening. Typically, it takes two to four months for athletes to achieve complete pain relief, but it may take up to a year for them to return to their sport. A patient’s physician, physical therapist and athletic trainer should work together to determine an individualized plan for the athlete to ensure a safe and effective recovery.