Shoulder injuries in the overhead athlete

J Orthop Sports Phys Ther. 2009 Feb;39(2):38-54. doi: 10.2519/jospt.2009.2929.


The overhead throwing motion is an extremely skillful and intricate movement. When pitching, the overhead throwing athlete places extraordinary demands on the shoulder complex subsequent to the tremendous forces that are generated. The thrower's shoulder must be lax enough to allow excessive external rotation but stable enough to prevent symptomatic humeral head subluxations, thus requiring a delicate balance between mobility and functional stability. We refer to this as the "thrower's paradox." This balance is frequently compromised and believed to lead to various types of injuries to the surrounding tissues. Frequently, injuries can be successfully treated with a well-structured and carefully implemented nonoperative rehabilitation program. The key to successful nonoperative treatment is a thorough clinical examination and accurate diagnosis. Rehabilitation follows a structured, multiphase approach, with emphasis on controlling inflammation, restoring muscles' balance, improving soft tissue flexibility, enhancing proprioception and neuromuscular control, and efficiently returning the athlete to competitive throwing. Athletes often exhibit numerous adaptive changes that develop from the repetitive microtraumatic stresses occurring during overhead throwing. Treatment should include the restoration of these adaptations.

Level of evidence: Level 5.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Athletic Injuries / physiopathology*
  • Athletic Injuries / therapy
  • Humans
  • Physical Therapy Modalities
  • Range of Motion, Articular
  • Shoulder / physiopathology*
  • Shoulder Dislocation / physiopathology*
  • Shoulder Dislocation / therapy
  • Shoulder Injuries
  • Shoulder Joint / physiopathology*