On March 21st, Red Sox relief pitcher Carson Smith walked off
the mound with a feeling of discomfort in his right arm. One day and one
MRI later, it was revealed that the hard-throwing righty had strained his
flexor mass muscle.
The injury landed Smith on the disabled list going into the start of the
season, which, after E-Rod’s patellar tendon subluxation, isn’t great news
for Red Sox Nation. But it could have been worse.
“Injuries to a pitcher’s throwing arm are always cause for concern,” says
Kevin E. Samaha, Physician Assistant with the
Division of Sports Medicine
at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. “In general, the medical staff
will exercise extreme caution, particularly in the pre-season. It’s
important to give players the appropriate time to rest early on so that
they’ll be able to endure a lengthy season on the back end.”
Your flexor mass muscles are what enable you to grip objects, throw a ball,
and flex your hand at the wrist. Pitchers use these muscles more frequently
than most people, which is why strained flexor muscles are a fairly common
injury in baseball. And although it’s less common for the rest of us, this
type of injury can happen from overuse of the forearm muscles, and is
commonly known as golfer’s elbow or tennis elbow.
“Because professional athletes function at such a high level, a simple
strain may result in decreased velocity on a fast ball or less movement on
a breaking pitch,” says Samaha. “For us recreational athletes, it is less
likely to keep us out of competition, although it may make for a painful
round of golf.”
So how can pitchers — and recreational athletes — tell when they’ve injured
their flexor mass muscles? This type of injury can either be the result of
a one-time event or long-term overuse. Often, one-time events can easily be
recalled as that one painful moment when the injury occurred. Telltale
symptoms are swelling around the forearm, a burning sensation in the area
of the elbow, pain when trying to grip something, and possible numbness in
the forearm or elbow.
Fortunately, this injury often heals with simple rest and rehabilitation,
and no need for surgery. Common treatments include anti-inflammatory
medications, ice, and a few weeks of down time followed by a strengthening
program. But the timetable for this type of injury is different for
everyone, and there’s no rehabbing until the swelling goes down.
As far as avoiding injury, Samaha stresses the importance of starting off
slow. “Injuries can sometimes be the result of attempting to do too much
too fast. Whether you’re a professional athlete or not, it’s important to
build up your body’s conditioning as a whole. This is why pitchers and
catchers report to spring training so early — it allows the appropriate
time to prepare for a marathon-type season.”
With expectations of a marathon-type baseball season that goes deep into
October, here’s hoping that Smith gets his swelling down and pitch velocity
back up as soon as possible.