Baseball Season, Go Easy On Your Rotator Cuff

Author: Courney Erickson-Adams, MD

The snap of the glove and crack of the bat tell us that baseball season is upon us. While America’s favorite pastime gives us a lot to enjoy, it also provides more opportunity for shoulder injuries. The repetitive throwing motions involved in baseball place these athletes at increased risk for rotator cuff issues. Here, we’ll discuss the anatomy of the rotator cuff, why baseball players are at increased risk, which injuries are most common, and what preventive measures will help keep your rotator cuff healthy. 

What is the rotator cuff?

The rotator cuff is made up tendons that stabilize the shoulder joint and connect to the four muscles that allow the shoulder to move in various directions—like raising and rotating your arm. Each of the four muscles that make up the rotator cuff have an individual role:

  • Supraspinatus—stabilizes the upper arm and gives you the ability to lift it. 
  • Infraspinatus—enables rotation and extension of the shoulder. 
  • Teres Minor—assists with rotation of the arm away from the body.
  • Subscapularis—provides a connection between the bone in your upper arm and your shoulder blade. It gives you the ability to rotate your arm, hold it straight out, and lower it.

Why are baseball players at increased risk?

The repetitive motion of throwing the ball places baseball players at increased risk for injuries to the rotator cuff. This is especially true for pitchers and young athletes, whose growing bones don’t tolerate the repetitive stress of the throwing motion as well as more mature bones do. 

Baseball-related rotator cuff injuries can include:

  • rotator cuff tendonitis—in which the rotator cuff or biceps tendon become inflamed. This injury can range from mild to severe, depending upon how much inflammation is present. If the rotator cuff swells, it may become trapped under the highest point of the shoulder (acromion) and create rotator cuff impingement syndrome. 
  • torn rotator cuff—can result from the wear and tear of repetitive use or occur upon impact with another player or that outfield wall. 

What are the symptoms and treatment for rotator cuff injury?

Pain and a change in function are the most common signs that something is amiss with your rotator cuff. Pain may occur at the front of the shoulder and you might notice weakness in your joint or have trouble lifting your arm. Baseball players may notice that their throwing velocity is less than normal. 

Treatment depends upon the specific injury, but usually starts with rest, ice, and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAIDs) medications if you need them. You should check with your doctor before taking any medications. Physical therapy may also be indicated, as may surgery if conservative treatments don’t work.

How can rotator cuff injury be prevented?

If you’re a baseball player, you can help prevent rotator cuff injuries by using proper form when throwing, avoiding overuse by following age-based pitching guidelines, strengthening the muscles in and around the rotator cuff, and listening to your body. If something hurts,  you shouldn’t push through the pain. Instead, you should stop and get it checked out. Ignoring the warning signs can make the injury worse—which may require more extensive treatment and time off the field. 

If you are experiencing shoulder pain of any kind, our team of experts is uniquely equipped to provide the evaluation and treatment that you need.  

Contact us today.