By Amy McGorry
As baseball opening day approaches, pitchers are wary of achy elbows and triceps tears, which can make pitching a perfect game (or waving down that hotdog vendor in the ballpark) a painful event.
Although triceps tears aren't very common, they do surface in sports involving throwing (such as baseball) and heavy blocking and falls (such as football and lacrosse). Superbowl MVP Ray Lewis suffered this type of injury, and retired NFL player Kevin Mawae’s streak of 177 consecutive NFL starts was halted by a triceps tear. These injuries are usually treated conservatively, but surgery is sometimes required in cases that involve a complete tear.
Read on to see how to avoid this injury so your traditions at the ballpark (and your sports performance) can stay intact.
When Triceps Are A Pain
The triceps brachii (aka triceps) muscle runs from the back of the shoulder to the back of the elbow. Its primary role is to straighten the elbow and support elbow stability as it undergoes significant force during the throwing motion.
Repetitive throwing can lead to wear and tear of the muscle, but most injuries occur when there's a force trying to bend the elbow as the triceps is trying to extend it. (Think of football players colliding and blocking on the field.) If a force exceeds the strength of the muscle fibers, a tear occurs. Athletes often complain of pain and swelling along the back of the elbow and an inability to straighten the arm.
Why You're Sidelined
Let’s consider the baseball pitcher. The triceps and biceps act like a “checking system,” countering the pull of each other to give the arm a controlled motion. If the biceps muscle overpowers the triceps, it can strain the triceps and make it weak. This weakness can affect the acceleration phase of a pitcher’s throw. In football, the player will lack the ability to straighten his arm from a bent position, so his blocking and ability to push off an opponent may suffer (and so may the QB he's guarding!).
Weak triceps can also affect you off the field. If your shoulders “roll in” from working on a computer all day, this poor alignment doesn’t allow the triceps to work efficiently. Reaching for something behind you can strain the muscle.
How To Stay In The Game
It's important to develop triceps strength to reduce your risk of elbow injuries and triceps tears. Following a good flexibility and strengthening program to the shoulders, upper back and forearm is also important.
Do three sets of 10 repetitions of the following:
- Stand in front of a chair as if you were about to sit down
- Reach behind and grasp the front edge of the seat with both hands, knuckles facing forward
- Keep your feet on the floor and lower your body until your arms form a 90-degree angle
- Push back up to start position
- Tie a resistance band to a sturdy object at chest level
- Hold band with palms facing down and elbows bent at 90-degree angle
- Keep shoulders back and elbows against the sides of your body
- Push band down as you straighten your arms, but don’t lock your elbows
- Slowly return to start position
- Place left knee and left hand on a bench
- Hold dumbbell in right hand, arm along trunk, elbow bent at a 90-degree angle
- Straighten elbow, then return to start position
Check with your physician prior to performing any exercise program.