Accidents are just that -- accidents. Anyone can fall onto an outstretched arm during a soccer skirmish or daredevil skateboarding maneuver and fracture the wrist.
But sports and exercise injuries to the elbows, wrists and fingers often stem from overuse, faulty technique, or poor conditioning. That means welcome news: with a few smart measures, you can reduce your chances of injury.
What common types of exercise injuries occur in the arm? What puts golfers, baseball pitchers, and rock climbers at risk? WebMD asked two sports medicine experts to share their insights.
Tennis elbow and golfer’s elbow are two frequent complaints, says Jeanne Doperak, DO, a sports medicine physician and assistant professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. “Both are overuse injuries, typically, one repetitive motion over and over again,” she says. (However, such problems also afflict people who don’t swing rackets or golf clubs, but use their arms repetitively, such as violinists.)
Tennis elbow, or lateral epicondylitis, causes pain on the outside of the elbow from inflamed tendons. Repeatedly hitting backhands in tennis can spur the condition.
Golfer’s elbow, or medial condylitis, causes painful, inflamed tendons on the inside of the elbow, near the pinky side of the arm. Poor technique in hitting a golf ball can cause the inflammation.
Sports doctors will also see a torn ulnar collateral ligament, also known as the medial collateral ligament, in the elbow, often in baseball players. “A pitcher will throw really hard and have a sudden pain,” Doperak says. “Or if someone playing football or wrestling falls on an outstretched arm, their elbow can buckle and cause [the ulnar collateral ligament] to tear.” This ligament plays an important role in stabilizing the elbow in many other throwing sports, such as javelin, racquet sports, and ice hockey.
“The most common things are sprains and fractures,” says Doperak, who also serves as a team physician for athletes at the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University. “We do see a lot of fractures from falling on an outstretched arm, typically. That can be in any sport.”
But Doperak says that skateboarding, roller blading, football, and even soccer can put people at risk for wrist fractures. “I see quite a few in soccer, believe it or not. You shouldn’t be using your arm in soccer, but people trip and they fall down onto an outstretched arm.”
Sprains can also happen when the wrist is forced backward, tearing the ligament that connects the bones of the wrist.
Hand and finger injuries
Certain sports cause a lot of hand and finger injuries, Doperak says. “Rock climbing has a lot of finger injuries because people are grasping the rock. Football -- where guys are grabbing jerseys and using their hands to tackle -- we see quite a few finger injuries, as well.”