CHICAGO — First it was Tommy John; now another elbow condition is throwing a curve ball at young baseball players. With more kids playing baseball year-round and throwing at record velocities, ulnar neuritis, also known as cubital tunnel syndrome, is a condition keeping more players off the field.
Physicians at Midwest Orthopaedics at Rush (MOR), who are team physicians for the Chicago White Sox, have seen more patients with ulnar neuritis, which is caused by repeated bending or straining of the elbow leading to a compression of the ulnar nerve, also known as the “funny bone” nerve. This causes pain in the elbow during throwing. Other symptoms include numbness, tingling or grip weakness.
Two MOR surgeons, Drs. Gregory Nicholson and Mark Cohen are studying this condition. Their research, presented recently at the 2018 American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) annual meeting, evaluated the effectiveness of ‘ulnar nerve transposition,’ a procedure during which the affected nerve is decompressed and repositioned in front of the elbow, alleviating pain and restoring function.
“Ulnar neuritis is an underdiagnosed condition and it can be confused with an ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) injury, also known as Tommy John,” says Dr. Nicholson. “It is also common to see it in combination with a UCL injury. However, this is the first time we have documented a growing number of overhead ballplayers who get this and don’t have Tommy John. However, we are encouraged by the success rate of our patients who have been treated.”
Among the study patients who underwent an ulnar nerve transposition, 91% returned to play within 3-5 months, and 82% returned to compete at the same level or greater. The average age of the study patients was 18. While most were baseball players, the doctors saw a number of other overhead athletes.
Dr. Cohen encourages anyone experiencing symptoms to seek care. “Overhead athletes who have symptoms of elbow pain, grip weakness, or tingling of the fingers should always see a qualified orthopedic surgeon who is experienced in treating elbow conditions. The earlier they get assessed and treated, the quicker players can return to doing what they love.”
NOTE: For more information on preventing overhead throwing injuries, visit www.shouldersforlife.org.