Is Throwing and Catching a Baseball Stressful?

We asked Dr. Mark Baratz, director of the Division of Hand and Upper Extremity Surgery and vice chairman of the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery at Allegheny General Hospital, to answer one of your health questions.

Q: What types of stresses are caused to the hand, wrist or arm when throwing and catching a baseball?

A: Throwing a baseball involves a complex interaction of movements that take place (with great force) within a split second. As a result, injuries can occur to the shoulder or elbow. Catching a baseball can result in injury to the fingers, wrist or hand, particularly with bare-handed and diving catches.

While throwing, strain on the shoulder can cause the bumper that lines the cup of the shoulder joint to tear away from the bone. These labral tears are common and often require surgery. Tears of the rotator cuff are less common but can lead to significant problems and, oftentimes, require surgery as well.

The throwing motion also places high stress on the elbow, risking injury to the ulnar collateral ligament, a small ligament on the inside of the elbow. If rest and exercise are unsuccessful, an elite athlete may have to undergo rebuilding of this ligament and have a procedure known as “Tommy John Surgery.”

The same stresses that stretch the ligament also force together two bones located on the outside of the elbow. When rest is unsuccessful, arthroscopic surgery of the elbow may be necessary.

Falling on the palm in the midst of a diving catch can lead to fracture of a small bone called the hook of the hamate; this fracture can irritate adjacent tendons and is best treated by removing the small bone fragment. A bare-handed catch that strikes the tip of the finger can result in fracture or tendon injury. These injuries should, in all cases, be evaluated by a physician who specializes in handcare.

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