What is Overhead Athlete’s Shoulder?
An overhead athlete is at increased risk of injury due to the mechanism associated with rapid shoulder elevation, external rotation, and abduction. An overhead throwing motion is an intricate and skillful movement that presents a special challenge of needing the glenohumeral joint to surpass its physiologic limits during overhead sports activities.
Athletes involved in overhead sports such as baseball, American football, tennis, volleyball, swimming, and other repetitive throwing sports apply immense force across their shoulders during hitting and throwing actions and are at increased risk of developing overhead shoulder injuries. An overhead injury may occur due to improper techniques, training errors, shoulder instability, shoulder imbalance, and overuse of muscles surrounding the shoulder.
Anatomy of the Shoulder
The shoulder is a ball and socket joint that is formed of 3 bones; humerus (upper arm bone), scapula (shoulder blade), and clavicle (collarbone). The head of the upper arm bone fits into a rounded socket (the glenoid) in the shoulder blade (scapula). Surrounding the outside edge of the socket is a rim of tough, fibrous tissue called the labrum that helps to deepen the socket and stabilize the shoulder joint. These bones are joined together by soft tissues (tendons, muscles, ligaments, and joint capsules) to provide a platform for the arm to work.
Causes of Overhead Athlete’s Shoulder Injuries
Most problems in the shoulder involve ligaments, muscles, tendons, and joints. Some of the common causes that can be attributed to overhead athlete’s shoulder injuries include:
- Inflammation of the joints
- Torn cartilage or torn rotator cuff
- Inflammation of the tendons or rotator cuff tendinitis
- Bursitis or swelling of the bursa sacs
- Fractures and dislocations
- Stiffening of the ligaments, muscles, and tendons
- Shoulder instability (a condition where a shoulder joint is forced out or moves out of its normal position)
- Shoulder impingement (inflammation from repetitive shoulder activities)
Symptoms of Overhead Athlete’s Shoulder Injuries
Some of the common symptoms of overhead athlete’s shoulder injuries include:
- Persistent pain and tenderness
- Referred or radiating pain
- Loss of range of motion
- Pain with overhead action
- Reduction in throwing velocity
- Tightness of the chest muscles
- Snapping or popping sensation
- Scapular winging (a painful condition of the shoulder blades)