How to Treat Elbow Pain From Throwing Motions: Care & Prevention

How to Treat Elbow Pain From Throwing Motions: Care & Prevention

You may be no stranger to elbow pain if you're an athlete, especially a thrower. One common culprit here is a condition known as osteochondritis dissecans (OCD). This leading cause of permanent elbow disability, particularly in adolescent athletes, is an erosion of cartilage and underlying bone in part of a joint. Over time, OCD can lead to bone chips in the joint, causing a gradual onset of pain.

The pain usually manifests on the outer aspect of the elbow, often intensifying during the cocking and early acceleration phase of throwing. Swelling, joint locking, or stiffness are more concerning symptoms that may appear later. 

Fortunately, there are ways to treat this condition before it escalates, such as by using an arm massager, ice therapy, and other pain management techniques. We're here to guide you through your many options.

What Are Throwing Injuries of the Elbow?

Elbow injuries result from weeks, months, or even years of overuse and repetitive throwing motions that strain the elbow’s bones, ligaments, nerves, and muscles. This can usher in many problems, like inflammation, swelling, cartilage injuries, and bone spurs. Sports that put significant repetitive stress on the elbow include baseball, tennis, softball, golf, and gymnastics. Specific conditions include:

Tennis Elbow

Repetitive movements that strain the wrist and forearm can lead to tennis elbow or inflammation of the tendons that connect your forearm muscles to the outside of your elbow. Any activity that strains the wrist and forearm, not just tennis, can lead to it. While you may be able to relieve tennis elbow with foam rolling or other self-care measures, your best option is to avoid such overuse injuries in the first place.

Pitcher’s Elbow

Not exclusive to baseball, pitcher’s elbow can occur in any sport where you subject your elbow to intense, repetitive overhand motions. Over time, these may tear the medial collateral ligament (MCL), also known as the ulnar collateral ligament (UCL). This ligament holds the humerus and ulna together, stabilizing your inner elbow.

Golfer’s Elbow

Although the rigors of golf may not seem comparable to those of baseball or tennis, golfers' elbows result from the same kind of strain. As with tennis elbow, repeated wrist-twisting and flexing can cause inflammation and pain on the inside of your arm and elbow due to the strain being focused on different tendons and muscles.

Common Symptoms of Throwing Elbow Injuries

Throwing elbow injuries commonly occur due to continual overuse and repetitive motions, particularly during sports activities. Preventive measures, early detection, and appropriate treatments can go a long way, so it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with the key symptoms:

  • Persistent pain on the inside or outside of the elbow 
  • Pain that worsens with throwing or other arm movements
  • Reduced range of motion in the elbow
  • Numbness or tingling in the elbow
  • Swelling around the elbow
  • Pain when shaking hands
  • Forearm pain
  • Wrist pain

Diagnosing Elbow Injuries From Throwing

The diagnosis process for elbow pain is relatively straightforward. Usually, your doctor will examine your arm, ask about your discomfort, and have you move your fingers, hand, wrist, and arm. This simple evaluation may be enough to identify tennis elbow, golfer’s elbow, pitcher’s elbow, or other throwing-related elbow injuries.

If there's cause for suspicion, your specialist might employ high-tech tools such as the following to rule out any other problems or to delve deeper into the issue.

  • X-rays: These give a solid picture of your elbow's bony components so doctors can determine whether or not there are additional complications.
  • Computed tomography (CT) scans: These marvels of modern technology provide a 3-D image of your bony structures. They're handy for identifying bone spurs or other disorders that limit motion or cause pain.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans: MRIs are the way to go when viewing the elbow's soft tissues. They help distinguish between ligament and tendon disorders that frequently present similar symptoms. MRIs can also help a doctor determine whether your ligament is slightly damaged or completely torn.
  • Arthrogram: You might need an arthrogram or an MRI procedure where they inject dye into your elbow joint to examine for ligament tears.

Treating Elbow Pain From Throwing

A diagnosis is just the first step. This fuels your plan for an effective treatment to ease your symptoms, accelerate healing, prevent further injuries, and regain normal elbow function. Treatment modalities include:

Rest & Ice Therapy

Limiting or stopping your throwing activities can give your elbow much-needed recuperation time. Similarly, icing your inflamed elbow will soothe the inflammation and relieve the injured area. Make sure also to elevate the elbow to reduce swelling and discomfort. Remember, timely initiation of these protocols will increase their effectiveness.

Foam Rolling

Exercises with a foam roller are potent tools for muscle recovery and flexibility. Foam rollers work by breaking down soft tissue adhesions and scar tissue. This aids in freeing the restricted muscles around your elbow, alleviating your discomfort, and encouraging healing. Ask a licensed professional to demonstrate the proper techniques to avoid making standard foam rolling mistakes or risk further injury.

Physical Therapy Exercises

A well-curated physical therapy program can restore mobility, flexibility, and strength. Therapeutic exercises directed by trained therapists help stretch and strengthen your injured elbow. This can mitigate stress on your elbow during movements. The goal is that regular progression of these exercises will enable you to return to your pre-injury throwing activities gradually.

Pain Management Techniques

With advancements in modern medicine, today’s pain management techniques for elbow discomfort range from non-surgical options like anti-inflammatory pain relievers to surgical procedures like Tommy John Surgery. Doctors have performed this surgery, which replaces a torn ulnar collateral ligament in the elbow, with increased frequency in the last few decades due to its high success rates.

Preventing Elbow Pain in the Future

In treating and managing elbow pain, knowing how to prevent future occurrences is equally vital. We’ve identified some critical elements to help you avoid elbow discomfort.

  • Foam rolling: Implementing a foam rolling routine between workouts or after strenuous activities can help your muscles recover faster. For example, massaging your forearms and other areas around your elbow can reduce inflammation and kickstart your body’s healing processes.
  • Proper throwing techniques: Your technique can significantly impact the chances of an elbow injury, especially if you’re an amateur athlete or a hobbyist just starting with new sports. Learning the correct form from a qualified coach or instructor is crucial.
  • Strengthening exercises: Incorporating strengthening exercises into your routine isn't just about increasing power and injury prevention. Regular exercise, designed for the elbow joint and the muscles around it, can help prevent repetitive stress.
  • Warm-up and cool-down routines: A dynamic warm-up prepares your body for the following exercise, increasing blood flow and flexibility. Similarly, a thorough cool-down allows your body (especially the muscles and ligaments around your elbow) to recover, limit inflammation, and reduce the soreness that signals muscle growth.

Frequently Asked Questions

Does practicing proper throwing techniques help prevent elbow pain?

Yes, implementing proper throwing techniques is crucial in preventing elbow pain. Accurate form reduces the risk of injury plus ensures optimal athletic performance. Additionally, consider developing a foam rolling routine after throwing activities. While foam rolling may initially hurt, it will help alleviate your soreness and foster good joint health.

How can strengthening exercises prevent pitchers' elbows?

Strengthening exercises, particularly those targeting the elbow and forearm muscles, can prevent pitcher’s elbow, a repetitive stress injury. Regular exercises will increase your muscle strength and resilience, helping to safeguard you against common pitching-related injuries.

What is the role of warm-up and cool-down routines in preventing elbow pain?

Warm-up and cool-down routines are essential to prepare your body for exercise and facilitate recovery post-exercise. These practices help to increase your joint flexibility, enhance blood flow to your muscles, and aid in preventing conditions such as golfer’s elbow and tennis elbow.

Is consistency important in implementing these practices to prevent future elbow pain?

Absolutely. Consistency is critical to maintaining a sports-filled future free from elbow pain. Regularly practicing proper throwing techniques, strengthening exercises, and warm-up and cool-down routines can minimize the risk of elbow pain and injury.

Image by Csaba Deli from Adobe Stock

Back to blog

Leave a comment

Please note, comments need to be approved before they are published.