Home Posts tagged "Ulnar Collateral Ligament" (Page 2)

Pitching Injuries: It’s Not Just What You’re Doing; It’s What You’ve Already Done

A while back, this article on pitching injuries became the single-most popular piece in EricCressey.com history:

Your Arm hurts?  Thank Your Little League, Fall Ball, and AAU Coaches

In that feature, I made the following statement:

We can do all the strength training, mobility work, and soft tissue treatments in the world and it won’t matter if they’re overused – because I’m just not smart enough to have figured out how to go back in time and change history. Worried about whether they’re throwing curveballs, or if their mechanics are perfect?  It won’t matter if they’ve already accumulated too many innings.

While athletes might be playing with fire each time they throw, the pain presentation pattern is different.  You burn your hand, and you know instantly.  Pitching injuries take time to come about. Maybe you do microscopic damage to your ulnar collateral ligament each time you throw – and then come back and pitch again before it’s had time to fully regenerate.  Or, maybe you ignore the shoulder internal rotation deficit and scapular dyskinesis you’ve got and it gets worse and worse for years – until you’re finally on the surgeon’s table for a labral and/or rotator cuff repair.  These issues might be managed conservatively if painful during the teenage years (or go undetected if no pain is present) – but once a kid hits age 18 or 19, it seems to automatically become “socially acceptable” to do an elbow or shoulder surgery.

Sure enough, just yesterday, reader Paul Vajdic sent me this article from the Shreveport Times. The author interviews world-renowned orthopedic surgeon Dr. James Andrews about the crazy increase in the number of Tommy John surgeries he'd performed over the past decade.

A comment he made really jumped out at me, in light of my point from above:

""I had a kid come in, a 15-year-old from Boca Raton, (Fla.), who tore his ligament completely in two,' Andrews said. 'The interesting thing is when I X-rayed his elbow with good magnification, he has a little calcification right where the ligament attaches to the bone. We're seeing more of that now. He actually got hurt with a minor pull of the ligament when he was 10, 11, 12 years of age. That little calcification gets bigger and, initially, it won't look like anything but a sore elbow. As that matures, it becomes more prominent. It turns into an English pea-size bone piece and pulls part of the ligament off when they're young.'"

In other words, it takes repeated bouts of microtrauma over the course of many years to bring an athlete to threshold - even if they have little to no symptoms along the way.  Injury prevention starts at the youngest ages; otherwise, you're just playing from behind the 8-ball when you start training high school and college players.

In addition to walking away with the perspective that young kids need to be strictly managed with their pitch counts, I hope this makes you appreciate the value of strength and conditioning programs at young ages, too.  For more information, check out my post, The Truth About Strength Training for Kids.

We can't prevent them all, but I do think that initiatives like the IYCA High School Strength Coach Certification in conjunction with pitch count implementation and coaching education are a step in the right direction.

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Does a Normal Elbow Really Exist?

I've written quite a bit in the past about how diagnostic imaging (x-rays, MRIs, etc) doesn't always tell the entire story, and that incidental findings are very common.  This applies to the lower back, shoulders, and knees (and surely several other joints).  The scary thing, though, is that we see these crazy structural abnormalities not just in adults, but in kids, too.  Last month, I highlighted research that showed that 64% of 14-15 year-old athletes have structural abnormalities in their knees - even without the presence of symptoms.  Just a month later, newer research is showing that the knee isn't the only hinge joint affected; young throwers' elbows are usually a structural mess as well.  In an American Journal of Sports Medicine study of 23 uninjured, asymptomatic high school pitchers (average age of 16), researchers found the following: Three participants (13%) had no abnormalities. Fifteen individuals (65%) had asymmetrical anterior band ulnar collateral ligament thickening, including 4 individuals who also had mild sublime tubercle/anteromedial facet edema. Fourteen participants (61%) had posteromedial subchondral sclerosis of the ulnotrochlear articulation, including 8 (35%) with a posteromedial ulnotrochlear osteophyte, and 4 (17%) with mild posteromedial ulnotrochlear chondromalacia. Ten individuals (43%) had multiple abnormal findings in the throwing elbow. For me, the 35% with the osteophytes (and chondromalacia) are the biggest concern.  Thickening of the ulnar collateral ligament isn't surprising at all, but marked osseous (bone) abnormalities is a big concern.

Also, as a brief, but important aside, this study was done at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota - which isn't exactly the hotbed of baseball activity that you get down in the South.  Recent research also shows that players in Southern (warm weather) climates have decreased shoulder internal rotation range of motion and external rotation strength compared to their Northern (cold weather) climate counterparts. In other words, I'll be money that the numbers reported in this study are nothing compared to the young pitchers who are constantly abused year-round in the South. The next time you think to yourself that all young athletes - especially throwers - can be managed the same, think again.  Every body is unique - and that's why I'm so adamant about the importance of assessing young athletes. It's one reason why I filmed the Everything Elbow in-service, which would be a great thing to watch if you're someone who manages pitchers.

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Long Toss: Don’t Skip Steps in Your Throwing Program

My good buddy Alan Jaeger has gone to great lengths to bring long tossing to the baseball world.  I discussed why I really like it and what some of the most common long toss mistakes are in two recent posts:

Making the Case for Long Toss in a Throwing Program
The Top 4 Long Toss Mistakes

However, one thing I didn't discuss in those previous blogs was the status quo - which is essentially that long toss distances should not exceed 90-120 feet.  These seemingly arbitrary numbers are actually based on some research discussing where a pitcher's release point changes and the throwing motion becomes less and less like what we see on the mound.  Alan looked further into the origins of the "120 foot rule," and informed me that these programs began in the late 1980s/early 1990s and were based on "post-surgery experience" of a few rehabilitation specialists.

Yes, we're basing modern performance-based throwing programs for healthy pitchers on 20+ year-old return-to-throwing programs that were created for injured pitchers.  It seems ridiculous to even consider this; it's like only recommending body weight glute bridges to a football player looking to improve his pro agility time because you used them with a football player who had knee or low back pain.  It might be part of the equation, but it doesn't improve performance or protect against all injuries.  Let's look further at how this applies to a throwing context, though.

A huge chunk of pitching injuries - including all those that fall under the internal impingement spectrum (SLAP tears, undersurface cuff tears, and bicipital tendinosis), medial elbow pain (ulnar nerve irritation/hypermobility, ulnar collateral ligament tears, and flexor/pronator strains), and even lateral compressive stress (younger pitchers, usually) occur during the extreme cocking phase of throwing.  That looks like this:

It's in this position were you get the peel back mechanism and posterior-superior impingement on the glenoid by the supra- and infraspinatus.  And, it's where you get crazy valgus stress (the equivalent of 40 pounds pulling down on the hand) at the elbow - which not only stresses the medial structures with tensile force, but also creates lateral compressive forces.

In other words, if guys are hurt, this is the most common spot in their delivery that they will typically hurt.

So, logically, the rehabilitation specialists try to keep them away from full ROM to make the surgical/rehab outcomes success - and you simply won't get full range of motion (ROM) playing catch at 60-120 feet.

Effectively, you can probably look at the "progression" like this:

Step 1: 60-120 ft: Low ROM, Low Stress
Step 2: 120+ ft: Medium ROM, Medium Stress
Step 3: 240+ ft: High ROM, Medium Stress
Step 4: Mound Work: High ROM, High Stress

In other words, in the typical throwing program - from high school all the way up to the professional ranks - pitchers skip steps 2 and 3.  To me, this is like using jump rope to prepare for full speed sprinting.  The ROM and ground reaction forces (stress) just don't come close to the "end" activity.

Only problem?  Not everyone is rehabbing.  We're actually trying to get guys better.

Long Toss.  Far.  You'll thank me later.

Want to learn more? Check out Alan's DVD, Thrive on Throwing, to learn more.  He's made it available to my readers at 25% off through this link.

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Weight Training for Baseball: Featured Articles

I really enjoy writing multi-part features here at EricCressey.com because it really affords me more time to dig deep into a topic of interest to both my readers and me.  In many ways, it's like writing a book.  Here were three noteworthy features I published in 2010: Understanding Elbow Pain - Whether you were a baseball pitcher trying to prevent a Tommy John surgery or recreational weightlifter with "tennis elbow," this series had something for you. Part 1: Functional Anatomy Part 2: Pathology Part 3: Throwing Injuries Part 4: Protecting Pitchers Part 5: The Truth About Tennis Elbow Part 6: Elbow Pain in Lifters

Strategies for Correcting Bad Posture - This series was published more recently, and was extremely well received.  It's a combination of both quick programming tips and long-term modifications you can use to eliminate poor posture. Strategies for Correcting Bad Posture: Part 1 Strategies for Correcting Bad Posture: Part 2 Strategies for Correcting Bad Posture: Part 3 Strategies for Correcting Bad Posture: Part 4

A New Paradigm for Performance Testing - This two-part feature was actually an interview with Bioletic founder, Dr. Rick Cohen.  In it, we discuss the importance of testing athletes for deficiencies and strategically correcting them.  We've begun to use Bioletics more and more with our athletes, and I highly recommend their thorough and forward thinking services. A New Paradigm for Performance Testing: Part 1 A New Paradigm for Performance Testing: Part 2 I already have a few series planned for 2011, so keep an eye out for them!  In the meantime, we have two more "Best of 2010" features in store before Friday at midnight. Sign-up Today for our FREE Newsletter:
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Managing Sidearm and Submarine Pitchers

Q: I just saw your post about Strasberg and pitching injuries.  This may be hopelessly naive, but - do "submarine" throwers face the same perils?  I'm old enough to remember Kent Telkulve, so it made me think.  It seems as though I see a fair number of throws from SS and 3B positions that appear somewhat submarine-like in motion, so the technique wouldn't be completely unknown. Thoughts? A: In short, the answer would be "yes," they do face the same perils. If you actually slow things down and example joint angles, you'll see that the shoulder and elbow positioning most of these guys get to is very similar to what you see in more overhand throwers.  The difference is in how much lateral trunk tilt they have; the more trunk tilt, the lower the release point.

bradford

The primary difference you'll see is that sidearm/submarine throwers will typically break down at the elbow a lot more than the shoulder.  Aguinaldo and Chambers found that sidearm throwers had significantly higher elbow valgus torques than overhand throwers. It's not surprising, given that they do tend to lead with the elbow a bit more. Position players who throw more sidearm can largely get away with it because a) they don't have anywhere near the volume of throwing in a single outing or a season that pitchers do, and b) they aren't throwing off a mound.  We know that just stepping up onto the elevated mound dramatically increases arm stress.

pedroia

So, what are the practical applications of knowing the demands are, for the most part, very similar? First, spend a considerable amount more time focusing on core stability and working to iron out excessive right-left asymmetries that arise secondary to all the lateral trunk tilt.  In other words, worry as much about the spine as you do about the arm.

joshpapelbon

Second, I'd put an even greater emphasis on soft tissue work at the medial elbow - particularly on the common flexor tendon (the muscles that join to create this tendon protect the ulnar collateral ligament from excessive valgus stress).

Third, as is usually the case, use these guys as relievers to keep their throwing volume lower while still maximizing their utility. Other than that, manage them as if you would any other pitcher - which should always be a tremendously individualized process, anyway! Please enter your email below to sign up for our FREE newsletter.

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More Than Just Pitching Mechanics: The Skinny on Stephen Strasburg’s Injury

Since a lot of folks reading this blog know me as "the baseball guy," I got quite a few email questions about the elbow injury Washington Nationals phenom Stephen Strasburg experienced the other day.  Likewise, it was the talk of Cressey Performance last Friday - and got tremendous attention in the media.  Everyone wants to know: how could this have been prevented?

strasburg

On Thursday's edition of Baseball Tonight, my buddy Curt Schilling made some excellent points about Strasburg's delivery that likely contributed to the injury over time.  Chris O'Leary has also written some great stuff about the Inverted W, which is pretty easily visualized in his delivery.

invertedw

The point I want to make, though, is that an injury like this can never, ever, ever, ever be pinned on one factor.  We have seen guys with "terrible mechanics" (I put that in quotes because I don't think there is such a thing as "perfect mechanics") pitch pain-free for their entire careers.  Likewise, we've seen guys with perfect mechanics break down.  We've seen guys with great bodies bite the big one while some guys with terrible bodies thrive.

The point is that while we are always going to strive to clean things up - physically, mechanically, psychologically, and in terms of managing stress throughout the competitive year - there is always going to be some happenstance in sports at a high level.  As former Blue Jays general manager JP Ricciardi told me last week when we chatted at length, "you've only got so many bullets in your arm."

Strasburg used up a lot of those bullets before he ever got drafted, so it's hard to fault the Nationals at all on this front.  In fact, from this ESPN article that was published when the team thought it was a strain of the common flexor tendon and not an ulnar collateral ligament injury (requiring Tommy John surgery), "Strasburg has told the team he had a similar problem in college at San Diego State and pitched through it."  It's safe to assume that the Nationals rule out a partial UCL tear in their pre-draft MRIs, but you have to consider what a common flexor tendon injury really means.

medialepicondyle

As I wrote in in my "Understanding Elbow Pain" series (of interest: Anatomy, Pathology, Throwing Injuries, and Protecting Pitchers) the muscles that combine to form the common flexor tendon are the primary restraints - in addition to the ulnar collateral ligament - to valgus stress.  If they are weak, overused, injured, dense, fibrotic, or whatever else, more of that stress is going on that UCL - particularly if an athlete is throwing with mechanics that may increase that valgus stress (the Inverted W I noted above) - the party is going to end eventually.  Is it any surprise that this acute injury occurred just a few weeks after Strasburg dealt with a shoulder issue that put him on the disabled list for two weeks?  The body is a tremendously intricate system of checks and balances, and it bit him in the butt.

There are other factors, though.  As a great study from Olsen et al. showed, young pitchers who require surgery "significantly more months per year, games per year, innings per game, pitches per game, pitches per year, and warm-up pitches before a game. These pitchers were more frequently starting pitchers, pitched in more showcases, pitched with higher velocity, and pitched more often with arm pain and fatigue. They also used anti-inflammatory drugs and ice more frequently to prevent an injury."  And, they were also taller and heavier.

valgus

Go back through the last 12-15 years of Stephen Strasburg's life and consider just how many times he's ramped up for spring ball, summer ball, fall ball, and showcases - only so that he can shut down for a week, just to ramp right back up again to try to impress someone else.  Think of how many radar guns he's had to pitch in front of constantly for the past 5-7 years - because velocity is all that matters, right?

Stephen Strasburg's injury wasn't caused by a single factor; it was a product of many.  And, it can't be pinned on Strasburg himself, any of his coaches or trainers, or any of the scouts that watched him.  Blame it in the system that is baseball in America today.

We already knew that this system was a disaster, though.  Yet, people still keep letting their kids go to showcases in December.  Heck, arguably the biggest underclassmen prospect event of the year - the World Wood Bat Tournament in Jupiter, FL - takes places at the end of October.  When they should be resting, playing another sport, or preparing their bodies in the weight room, the absolute best prospects in the country are pitching with dead, unprepared arms just because it's a convenient time for scouts and coaches to recruit - because the season is over.

They're wasting their bullets.

Now, I'm not saying that Strasburg's injury could have been avoided in a different system - but I'd be very willing to bet that it could have been pushed much further back - potentially long enough to allow him to get through a career.  An argument to my point would be that if it wasn't for all these exposures, he wouldn't have developed - but my contention to that fact was that it is well documented that Strasburg "blew up" from a good to an extraordinary pitcher with increased throwing velocity when he made a dedicated effort to getting fit when he arrived at college.

My hope is that young pitchers will learn from this example and appreciate that taking care of one's body is just as important as showing off one's talent.

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Ulnar Collateral Ligament Injuries in Quarterbacks vs. Pitchers

Here's an interesting study on the incidence of ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) injuries in professional football quarterbacks.  With only ten reported cases between 1994 and 2008, it's obviously (and not surprisingly) much lower than the rates we see in professional baseball players.  This is right in line with what I discussed in Weighted Baseballs: Safe and Effective or Stupid and Dangerous?

Bengals Seahawks Football However, what is very interesting to me is that 9/10 cases were treated non-operatively; in other words, Tommy John surgery is much less prescribed in football quarterbacks than baseball pitchers - meaning that the quarterbacks respond better to conservative treatment. What's up with that?  They are the same injuries - and presumably the same rehabilitation programs. In my eyes, it's due to the sheer nature of the stress we see in a baseball pitch in comparison to a football throw.  As a quarterback, you can probably "get by" with a slightly insufficient UCL if you have adequate muscular strength, flexibility, and tissue quality.  While this is still the case in some baseball pitchers, the stresses on the passive structure (UCL) are still markedly higher on each throw, meaning that your chances of getting by conservatively are probably slightly poorer.

elbow

I'm sure that the nature of the sporting year plays into this as well.  Football quarterbacks never attempt to throw year-round, so there isn't a rush to return to throwing.  There are, however, a lot of stupid baseball pitchers who think that they can pitch year-round, so kids often "jump the gun" on their throwing programs and make things worse before they can heal completely. That said, we've still worked with a lot of pitchers who have been able to come back and throw completely pain-free after being diagnosed with a partial UCL tear and undergoing conservative treatment (physical therapy).  It's an individual thing. Related Posts Understanding Elbow Pain - Part 3: Throwing Injuries Understanding Elbow Pain - Part 4: Protecting Pitchers Please enter your email below to sign up for our FREE newsletter.
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Understanding Elbow Pain – Part 2: Pathology

In case you missed Part 1 of this series (Functional Anatomy), you can check it out HERE.

Elbow issues can be really tricky at times from a diagnostic standpoint. Someone with medial elbow pain could have pronator and/or flexor (a.k.a. Golfer’s Elbow) soft tissue issues, ulnar nerve irritation or hypermobility, ulnar collateral ligament issues, or a stress fracture of the medial epicondyle – or a combination of two or more of these factors. All of these potential issues are “condensed” into an area that might be a whopping one square inch in size. Throw lateral elbow pain (commonly extensor overuse conditions - a.k.a. "Tennis Elbow" - and bony compression issues) and posterior (underside) pain in the mix, and you’ve got a lot of other stuff to confound things.

lateralepicondyle1

To make matters more complex, it’s not an easy diagnosis. The only way to recognize soft tissue restrictions is to get in there and feel around – and even when something is detected, it takes a skilled clinician with excellent palpation skills to determine just what is “balled up” and what nerves it may affect (especially if there is referred pain).

In these situations, I’ll stick with the terms “soft tissue dysfunction” and “tendinopathy” or “tendinosis” to stay away from the diffuse and largely incorrect assumption of “elbow tendinitis.” We’re all used to hearing “Tennis Elbow” (lateral) and “Golfer’s Elbow” (medial), and to be honest, I’d actually say that these are better terms than “epicondylitis,” as issues are more degenerative (“-osis”) than inflammatory (“-itis”).

golfers

Ulnar nerve pain patterns can present at or below the elbow (pinky and ring finger tingling/numbness are common findings), and may originate as far up as the neck (e.g., thoracic outlet syndrome, brachial plexus abnormalities, rheumatologic issues, among others) and can be extremely challenging to diagnosis. A doctor may use x-rays to determine if there is some osseous contribution to nerve impingement or a MRI to check on the presence of something other than bone (such as a cyst) as the cause of the compression. Nerve conduction tests may be ordered. Manual repositioning to attempt to elicit symptoms can also give clues as to whether (and where) the nerve may be “stuck” or whether it may be tracking out of course independent of soft tissue restrictions.

Childress reported that about 16% of the population – independent of gender, age, and athletic participation – has enough genetic laxity in the supporting ligaments at the elbow to allow for asymptomatic ulnar nerve “dislocation” over the medial epicondyle during elbow flexion. In the position of elbow flexion, the ulnar nerve is most exposed (and it’s why you get the “funny bone” pain when you whack your elbow when it’s bent, but not when it’s straight). Ulnar nerve transposition surgeries has been used in symptomatic individuals who have recurrent issues in this regard, and it consists of moving the ulnar nerve from its position behind the medial epicondyle to in front of it.

ulnarnerve

An ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) issue may seem simple to diagnosis via a combination of manual testing and follow-up diagnostic imaging (there are several options, none of which are perfect), but it can actually be difficult to “separate out” in a few different capacities.

First, because the UCL attaches on medial epicondyle (albeit posteriorly), an injury may be overlooked acutely because it can be perceived as soft tissue restrictions or injuries.  The affected structures would typically be several of the wrist flexors as they attach via the common flexor tendon, or the pronator teres.

Second, partial thickness tears of the UCL can be seen in pitchers who are completely asymptomatic, so it may be an incidental finding. Moreover, we have had several guys come our way with partial thickness UCL tears who have been able to rehab and return to full function without surgery. While the UCL may be partially torn and irritated, the pain may actually be coming to “threshold” because of muscular weakness, poor flexibility, or poor tissue quality.

Medial epicondyle stress fractures can be easily diagnosed with x-rays, but outside of a younger population, they can definitely be overlooked. For instance, I had a pro baseball player – at the age of 23 – sent to us for training by his agent last year as he waiting for a medial epicondyle fracture to heal.

stressfracture

While these are the “big players” on the injury front – particularly in a throwing population – you can also see a number of other conditions, including soft tissue tears (flexor tendons, in particular), loose bodies (particularly posteriorly, where bone chips can come off the olecranon process), and calcification of ligaments. So, long story short, diagnosis can be a pain in the butt – and usually it’s a combination of multiple factors.  At a presentation last weekend, Dr. Lance Oh commented on how 47% of elbow pain cases present with subluxating medial triceps ("snapping elbow"), but this is rarely an issue by itself.

That’s one important note. However, there is a much more important note – and that is that many rehabilitation programs are outrageously flawed in that they only focus on strengthening and stretching the muscles acting at the elbow and wrist.

As I’ll outline in Part 3 of this series, a ton of the elbow issues we see in throwers occur secondary to issues at the glenohumeral and scapulothoracic joints. And, more significantly, not providing soft tissue work in these regions grossly ignores the unique anatomical structure of the elbow and forearm and its impact on tendon quality. If you’ve got elbow issues, make sure you’ve got someone doing good soft tissue work on you. Just to give you a little visual of what I’m thinking, I got a video of Nathaniel (Nate) Tiplady, D.C. (a great manual therapist who works out of Cressey Performance a few days a week) performing some Graston Technique® followed by Active Release ® on my forearms.  Here's the former; take note of the sound of his work on the tissues; the instruments actually give the practitioner tactile (and even audible) feedback in areas of significant restrictions.  You'll see that it is particularly valuable for covering larger surface areas (in this case, the flexors of the anteromedial aspect of the forearm):

As for the ART, you'll see that it's more focal in nature, and involves taking the tissue in question from shortened to lengthened with direct pressure.

As you can probably tell (even without seeing me sweat or hearing me curse), it doesn’t feel great while he’s doing it – but the area feels like a million bucks when he’s done.

While there is no substitute for having a qualified manual therapist work on you, using The Stick on one’s upper and lower arms can be pretty helpful.

More on that in Part 3…

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Understanding Elbow Pain – Part 1: Functional Anatomy

Today's piece kicks off a multi-part series focusing specifically on the elbow.  I'm going to start off this collection by talking about the anatomy of the elbow joint, but in appreciation of the fact that a lot of you are probably not as geeky as I am, I'll give you the Cliff's Notes version first: The elbow is the most "claustrophobic" joint in the body; there is a lot of stuff crammed into very little space.  This madness is governed not just by the joint itself, but (like we know with all joints) by the needs of the forearm/wrist and what goes on at the shoulder and neck. Even for the geeks out there, in the interest of keeping this thing "on schedule," I'm just going to focus on your pertinent information.  I would highly recommend The Athlete's Elbow to those of you interested in learning more; it's insanely detailed. Your big players on the osseous (bone) front are going to be the humerus, ulna, and radius.  At the humerus, in the context of this discussion, all you really just need to pay attention to are the medial and lateral epicondyles, as they are crucial attachment points for both tendons and ligaments (as well as sites of stress fractures in younger athletes).

elbow_labelled

Posteriorly, you'll see that olecranon process of the ulna sits right in the olecranon fossa of the humerus.  This is a pretty significant region, as it gives the elbow its "hinge" properties and prevents elbow hyperextension.  Fractures of the olecranon can occur and leave loose bodies in the joint that will prevent full elbow extension.  And, not to be overlooked is the attachment site of the triceps (via a common tendon) and anconeus on the olecranon process.

elbowxray

The "elbow" may just be a hinge to the casual observer, but in my eyes, it's important to distinguish among the humeroulnar joint (described above) and the humeroradial (pivot) and proximal radioulnar joints - which give rise to pronation and supination.

0199210896pivot-joint1

Likewise, the wrist (and the fingers, for that matter) is directly impacted in flexion/extension, radial deviation/ulnar deviation, and pronation/supination by muscles that actually attach as far "north" as the humerus.  Muscles aren't just working in one plane of motion; they're working for or against multiple motions in multiple planes.

In all, you have 16 muscles crossing the elbow.  For those counting at home, that's more than you'll find at another "hinge" joint, the knee, in spite of the fact that the knee is a much bigger joint mandating more stability.  More muscles equates to more tendons, and that's where things get interesting.

As any good manual therapist, and he'll tell you that soft tissue restrictions occur predominantly at: A.       Areas of increased friction between muscles/tendons B.       Areas where forces generated by a myofascial unit come together (termed "Zones of Convergence" by myofascial researcher Luigi Stecco): this is generally the muscle-tendon-bone "connection," as you don't typically see prominent restrictions in the mid-belly of a muscle. This is a double whammy for the muscles acting at the elbow.  In terms of A, you have many muscles in a small area.  Most folks overlook the importance of B, though: a lot of them share a common (or at least directly adjacent) attachment point.  The flexor carpi radialis, flexor carpi ulnaris, palmaris longus, and flexor digitorum superficialis all attach video the common flexor tendon on the medial epicondyle, with the pronator teres attaching just a tiny bit superiorly.  There's ball of crap #1.

medialepicondyle

Ball of crap #2 occurs at the lateral epicondyle, where you have the common extensor tendon, which is shared by extensor carpi radialis brevis, extensor carpi ulnaris, supinator, extensor digitorum, and extensor digiti minimi - with the extensor carpi radialis longus attaching just superiorly on the lateral supracondylar ridge.  Ball of crap #3 can be found posteriorly, where the three heads of the triceps converge to attach on the olecranon process via a common tendon, with the much smaller anconeus running just lateral to the olecranon process. You can see both balls of crap (double flusher?) coming together here:

lateralepicondyle

Ball of crap #4 is a bit more diffuse consisting of the attachments of biceps brachii (radial tuberosity), brachioradialis (radial/styloid process), and brachialis (coronoid process of ulna) on the anterior aspect of the forearm.

distalbiceps

This last graphic demonstrates that there are a few other factors to consider in this already jam-packed area.  You've got fascia condensing things further, and you've also got a blood supply and nerve innervations - most significantly, the ulnar, median, and radial nerves - passing through here. The median nerve, for instance, passes directly through the pronator teres muscle.

Oh, and you've also got ligaments mixed in - some of which are attaching on the very same regions that tendons are attaching.  The ulnar collateral ligament attaches on the medial epicondyle in close proximity to the flexors and pronator teres, for instance.  These ligaments are heavily reliant on soft tissue function to stay healthy.  As an example, flexor carpi ulnaris is going to be your biggest "protector" of the UCL during the throwing motion.

elbow

So what's the take-home message of this functional anatomy lesson?  Well, there are several.

1. Lots of stuck is packed in a very small area.

2. When things are stuck together, they form dense, fibrotic, nasty balls of crud.

3. These gunked up muscles/tendons can impact everything from nerve function to ligamentous integrity - or they can just give out in the form of a tear or tendinopathy.

4. Diagnosis can be tricky because all the potential issues take place in a small area, and may have very similar symptoms.  Different pathologies take place in different athletic populations, too.  We'll have more on this in Understanding Elbow Pain - Part 2: Pathology.

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Why Do Some Guys Come Back to Pitch Better After Tommy John Surgery? Things I Learned from Smart People: Installment 2

shoulder-performance-dvdcover Click here to purchase the most comprehensive shoulder resource available today: Optimal Shoulder Performance - From Rehabilitation to High Performance. Sign-up Today for our FREE Baseball Newsletter and Receive a Copy of the Exact Stretches used by Cressey Performance Pitchers after they Throw!
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Inefficency vs. Pathology

In Newsletter 95, I wrote about how pathologies often don’t become symptomatic until inefficiencies get to be too bad. Here is a perfect example of a guy who has basically learned how to work around a pathology to remain competitive at a high level. New Twist Keeps Dickey’s Career Afloat You can bet that he’s got a lot of efficiency working in his favor. Thanks, Paul Vajdic, for passing this along!
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