COMMUNITY: Treating, preventing baseball injuries

Health tips from Cody Scharf

JR Ogden
Published: March 29 2014 | 5:00 pm - Updated: 1 April 2014 | 10:18 am in

Editor’s note; Cody Scharf is the owner of Thrive Spine and Sport, a chiropractic and soft tissue clinic focusing on sport and overuse injuries in Cedar Rapids. Scharf is a graduate of Palmer College of Chiropractic and certified through Integrative Diagnosis for the diagnosis and treatment of soft tissue injuries.

By Cody Scharf, community contributor

Shockingly, one-third of major league baseball pitchers have undergone Tommy John surgery.

If you are unfamiliar with Tommy John surgery, it is a procedure to repair an injured ulnar collateral ligament (UCL), an injury frequently incurred by baseball players.

In 1974, Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Tommy John underwent surgery to repair his UCL. The surgery has been named after him ever since. Over the past 40 years, the occurrence of Tommy John surgeries continues to rise to epidemic proportions, especially in high school athletes, with no one seemingly knowing how to fix the problem.

Throwing a baseball is an unnatural act, one that places a lot of strain on the medial aspect of the throwing arm where the UCL is located. As a repetitive strain injury, coaches have tried to limit the amount of workload on the player by limiting pitch counts and innings pitched. Medical advances and statistical analysts measure everything in sport, yet the problem still remains and continues to grow.

What I have found in my baseball players with elbow pain is a buildup of scar tissue in the shoulder and forearm. In order to give yourself the best chance to avoid the injury, here are two screening procedures you can do at home to assess your risk:

The first test is “shoulder abduction.” Stand with arms on your side. Bring the arms up as close to the ears as possible. They should be within one inch. If looking from the side, the arm should cover the ear.

The second test is “wrist and finger extension.” Place your forearm flat against the wall and drop the elbow just below the shoulder.

Take the opposite hand and try to pull your fingers back as far as you can while keeping the forearm flat on the wall. The fingers should easily be able to pull back to around 65 degrees of extension, while the wrist should have at least 80 degrees of extension.

Any pain or motion restrictions, with the wrist or the shoulder, places you at high risk for future injury. When your functional movement is limited, repetitive motions will overload the soft tissues. Overload will cause weakness and scar tissue often develops in the medial elbow. This leads to degeneration and eventually tearing of the UCL.

For people at high risk of injury, treatment is vital. Proper treatment should start with manual therapy to remove scar tissue and restore functional movement. Strength exercises to stabilize the elbow, wrist and shoulder should then be implemented along with load management strategies, like reduced innings and pitch count.

It is important to note each individual is different. A pitch count that is good for one person, will be too much for another. Communication with coaches is important to help them better manage the health of your throwing arm.

l For more information, email Scharf at or visit

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