Sports Medicine 101: Shoulders, Elbows and Knees | El Camino Hospital
Sports Medicine 101: Shoulders, Elbows and Knees

Sports Medicine 101: Shoulders, Elbows and Knees

It’s easy to skip a warm-up or cool down when you’re trying to get in a workout or join a game in a hurry.

However, improper form and lack of preparation such as stretching are common causes of many sports-related injuries.

It’s helpful to understand common injuries and the targeted muscle groups, so that you can prepare and protect your body before, during and after activity. Here are some of the common injuries sustained during sports and physical activities.

Shoulder Injuries

The shoulder joint naturally has a large degree of freedom of motion, but this flexibility can make the joint susceptible to injury. Whether you’re a competitive athlete or you participate in occasional recreational activity, overusing your shoulders with repetitive movements may increase your risk of injury.

  • Rotator cuff tendonitis – The rotator cuff enables shoulder movements and maintains shoulder joint stability. Rotator cuff tendonitis, also known as bursitis, occurs when the tendons and muscles that help move the shoulder are inflamed.
  • Rotator cuff tears – In most rotator cuff tears, the tendon is detached from the bone, which severely weakens the shoulder. Tears can result from falls or rapid movements, or from a gradual wearing down of the tendon. Above all, if you have a rotator cuff tear and continue using it, this may cause further damage to the shoulder.
  • Biceps tendonitis – Pain and weakness in the front of the shoulder are common symptoms of biceps tendonitis. This can result from overuse in day-to-day activities or during exercise.
  • Shoulder arthritis – There are various types of arthritis that affect the shoulder. Osteoarthritis, or “wear-and-tear” arthritis, occurs when the bones of the shoulder joint rub against each other, causing pain. Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease that attacks tissues in the shoulder. X-rays can help distinguish various forms of arthritis.

Common symptoms of shoulder injuries include pain over the front and outside parts of the shoulder, increased pain at night (particularly for those who sleep on their side), an occasional clicking or snapping sound in the shoulder, and pain when reaching overhead or behind.

Elbow Injuries

Elbow injuries are common in people who play tennis and golf, but they can also occur during regular activity. Tendonitis is prevalent, as well as sprains, strains and arthritis.

  • Lateral epicondylitis – This injury is commonly known as “tennis elbow”. While tennis players and those who compete in racquet sports can be at risk, other sports and activities can cause this condition.
  • Medial epicondylitis – Similar to tennis elbow, medial epicondylitis, or “golfer’s elbow”, occurs on the inside part of the elbow. It is often exacerbated by repetitive activity.

Symptoms of elbow injuries include pain and weak grip strength.

Knee Injuries

Knee injuries are one of the most common reasons for doctor visits. As the knee is a complex joint comprised of many parts, it is susceptible to a variety of injuries. Common knee ailments include:

  • Osteoarthritis – Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis of the knee. The cartilage in the joints breaks down, and abnormal bony growths form, which results in stiffness and pain.
  • Meniscal tears – When doctors talk about torn cartilage in the knee, it is most often a torn meniscus. Meniscal tears often happen during sports, for example when players squat and twist their knee or when players are tackled.
  • Ligament tears – Knee ligaments connect bones to other bones in and around the joints. Tears can occur after a sharp change in direction, landing incorrectly, or after a blunt force hit or contact.

Signs and symptoms that often accompany knee pain include swelling and stiffness, warmth to the touch, weakness, popping or crunching noises, and inability to fully straighten the knee. It’s important to see a doctor if you have visible swelling or deformity in your leg or knee, can no longer bear weight on the knee, or you feel that your knee is giving out with movement.

If you experience symptoms of shoulder, elbow or knee injuries, the first course of action is to suspend further physical activity relating to that part of the body. This will help prevent further injury or damage. Resting and applying ice to the affected area is also recommended. If pain persists more than a few days and limits your ability to perform simple tasks, schedule an appointment with your doctor. X-ray and MRI tests can be used to detect certain conditions.

In most cases, rest, pain medication and range-of-motion exercises will help alleviate the pain. Steroid injections are used in severe cases to treat pain and inflammation. Should a condition require further attention, treatment typically involves bracing, activity modification and physical therapy. Surgery is appropriate in the acute phase for certain injuries, and only with failure of conservative treatment for other injuries/problems.

Take care to stretch before undertaking any physical activity. Additionally, try to approach sports such as lifting, tennis or golf with as close to perfect form as possible. Poor form has been known to cause or exacerbate symptoms. Taking the little extra time to stretch and warm up can ensure a fun and safe session on the courts or on the course. Stay in the game!

Dr. Jothi Murali presented this information at the 2017 Men’s Health Fair.

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