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What does a baseball player’s shoulder look like on MRI?

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What does a baseball player’s shoulder look like on MRI? It’s probably not what you’d expect…

 

A study back in 2002 looked at a small group of professional baseball players’ shoulders. The purpose of the study was to use an MRI to image the players shoulders and see what types of changes might be occurring with this highly active group. 

 

14 players were included in the study which meant 28 shoulders in total were scanned. The MRI’s were performed and each players Rotator Cuff Tendons (the important muscle group that creates a lot of the function and movement around the shoulder) and Labrum (the capsule that houses the shoulder and provides stability) were assessed, along with numerous other local shoulder structures.

The findings of the MRI’s showed –

  • In their non throwing shoulders 86% of the players had abnormal changes to their Rotator Cuff Tendons.
  • In their throwing shoulders 79% of players had abnormal changes to their Rotator Cuff Tendons.
  • In both their throwing and non throwing shoulders 79% of players had abnormal changes to their Labrums.

Like many, your first thought is probably something along the lines of – Wow… those numbers seem high, their shoulders must be toast. Or, you must need to be super lucky to not ruin your shoulders playing baseball at that level.


Now here’s the really interesting caveat – All the players included in this study were ‘asymptomatic’. Meaning, none of the 14 players reported shoulder pain, in either shoulder, or were dealing impaired function or performance. So I would suggest re-reading the above findings again, and knowing what you know now, how does it change your interpretation of the above?


So what should the take away be from a study like this? I think the moral of the story is that scan findings don’t represent the full picture. If you analyse these players based on their scans, you would assume they would be in some kind of trouble. If you analyse the findings in the context of the person, their shoulders are as healthy and functional as they have ever been. That’s why it’s super important to discuss your scan findings with a medical professional that explains your findings within the context of you as a person, not that what the scan shows because based on the above, we know that can be misleading.

 

Reference –

Miniaci, A, Mascia, AT, Salonen, D & Becker, EJ 2002, ‘Magnetic resonance imaging of the shoulder in asymptomatic professional baseball pitchers’, The American Journal of Sports Medicine, vol. 30, pp 66-73.

 


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