The natural joints of a skeleton have got to be one of the biggest wonders of the human body, executing movements both precise and powerful hundreds of times a day. It is only recently that humans have designed a machine that can even come close to the same degree of function. Even minor joint malfunction can be debilitating to the entire body, making everyday tasks difficult, if not impossible, and spurring the world to invest incredible time and resources in keeping our joints in working order.
Sports are not the only field where joint care is important, but they are by far the most prominent. A throwing arm is critical for most professional sports; even those that don’t necessarily require anything thrown still need that same joints to be in full working order. At the literal center of it all is the elbow, generating the bulk of the throwing motion for such favorites as baseball, American football, volleyball, and more.
Your elbow contains several components besides the bones that you feel and skin that you see. Surrounding the elbow are several muscles, a tendon network, and a soft-tissue cushion known as the trochlea that allows the upper and lower bones to move fluidly against one another. The overhead throwing motion at the center of so many sports puts significant stress on all of these tissues in sharp, repeated bursts, which can lead to them eventually wearing out or losing the elasticity that makes the throwing motion possible. This will cause inflammation and reduced elbow function, often forcing the athlete to the bench to recuperate.
In the longer term, your trochlea can actually wear away from the repeated rubbing between the upper and lower bones. Without soft tissue to protect and lubricate the motion, the bone itself begins to wear off as well. This can be debilitating in its own right, and also creates a risk of the bone regrowing improperly; the lack of the trochlea to guide the newly grown bone can cause painful bone spurs to develop outside of the normal boundaries of the joint.
Proper recognition and diagnosis of elbow injuries is critical to any athlete’s continued function. Abnormal pain should be followed with immediate departure from the sporting activity and consultation with a doctor. Until a proper check up can be done, minimize motion and load on the injured limb and try holding it in position with a sling or triangular bandage.
Although there are many procedures and treatments available for someone suffering from an elbow injury, the most important is that the patient not make further use of their elbow until they have fully recovered. A leading cause of serious elbow injuries is that athletes tend to “play through” minor ones, exacerbating them considerably before seeking medical help. Recognizing that something is wrong and staying off the field until your doctor gives the okay may not be the most exciting play, but it will be the one that makes sure that there will indeed be a next year for you as a player.