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Top 5 Upper Extremity Injuries in Youth Athletes

Shoulder and arm injuries often plague young athletes in many overhead sports such as baseball, lacrosse, football, softball, volleyball, swimming, and tennis. These injuries are often related to an imbalance in the body somewhere along the body’s chain, and can often be prevented. Dr. Ganley, Director of Sports Medicine at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia states “ As parents, coaches and healthcare workers we tend to think about prevention, but kids tend to soley focus on performance. In reality, they are one and the same.” As rehab and fitness specialists, we are learning that the exercises we use to improve performance in athletes of all levels, are the same ones we use to prevent injuries such as these common upper extremity injuries.

  1. Sternoclavicular Joint Dislocation. The Sternoclavicular Joint (SC joint) is where your collar bone meets your sternum at the base of your neck. This injury is of particular notice because it can be life threatening. A dislocation of this joint often comes from a traumatic blow driving the collar bone back into your neck. If the collar bone travels back it can compress or tear extremely important nerves and blood vessels. If this injury ever occurs or is suspected it is crucial to go directly to the emergency room to have this checked by a doctor.
  2. Little League Elbow. This is common in pitchers due to overuse and joint laxity at the elbow. Pain is often felt along the inside of the elbow with decreased pitching speed and accuracy. This injury if ignored can lead to tears of the Ulnar Collateral Ligament and stress fractures of the elbow. In order to prevent this injury rest is often indicated with strict monitoring of pitching schedules. This is most important for young athletes who play in several leagues at the same time.
  3. Osteochondritis Dessicans (OCD). This is a disorder that often results from trauma to the elbow joint. It can also result from chronic abnormal stress through the joint. The joint surface becomes irritated and often develops fragmentation. Once fragmentation has occurred if this disorder is not addressed it can lead to traumatic Osteoarthritis in the joint starting at a very young age depending on the injury age.
  4. Clavicle Fractures. Clavicle or collar bone fractures are another common dysfunction resulting from falling on an outstretched arm. They can often be painful and lead to restricted motion as they heal. If normal motion is not restored this can lead to limitations in overhead reaching and overhead arm motions in athletes. The clavicle has an important function in stabilizing the entire shoulder joint and allowing full motion of the shoulder.
  5. Shoulder Instability. This often plagues young athletes with significant amounts of overhead activity. If the shoulder joint isn’t properly being stabilized by small muscles of the back and rotator cuff, ligament laxity can occur surrounding the joint. Once laxity is developed pitchers may experience decreased pitching speed or a lack of control. Other athletes may report a weird or funny sensation in their arm when lifting overhead. This can often be resolved with selective strengthening to prevent further damage. If this problem is not addressed it can often lead to dislocation, labral tears, and rotator cuff tears causing significant missed time from their sport.

Now is the time to address injury prevention. By assessing the whole body with screens by qualified professionals who assess movement, imbalances can be identified and improved early. Preventative rehab or “pre-hab” can be done for the identified areas and athletes can decrease their chance of being side lined with an injury. See your local Doctor of Physical Therapy, Personal Trainer, or Physician for a consult to assess your athlete’s needs.