Health & Medical Guide

Injuries just a part of the game

By Matt Kane, Staff Writer

A last-second shot. A walk-off home run. A Hail Mary pass. All three are ideal ways to end a season. Being carted off the field on a stretcher — not so ideal.

One thing is a given: if you play sports, there is a chance of being injured.

Cullen Schultz, the star pitcher on his high school baseball team, found that out.

In the prime of his high school career, the left-hander was pitching the game that would decide if his Lester Prairie team would make the 2000 state tournament.

Schultz did his job and got his team to the state tournament, but his throwing arm paid a price en route.

Never having arm problems in the past, Schultz began feeling a sharp pain in his throwing shoulder during the game leading up to the one he pitched.

The injury was an inflamed rotator cuff.

“I couldn’t even throw the ball to first base,” he said.

But when it came time for him to pitch in the final game of the section playoff, adrenaline kicked in and propelled him and his teammates to the state tournament. A tournament he would never pitch in.

“It was fine during the game, but I couldn’t lift my arm after the game,” he explained.

Having to resort to the designated hitter role was not how Schultz dreamed of the state tournament.

“It was horrible,” he said. “When you are a kid, that’s the biggest thing you think about in high school. When we got there, I couldn’t do it.”

After going light on his arm in the summer, Schultz pitched some at the end of the amateur season and returned to the mound full-time for the fall season at Bethany College. He played his entire freshman year, making a dozen appearances, with no further complications.

But his arm problems were not over, and, in fact, were about to get worse.

Pitching for the amateur Winsted Wildcats in the summer of 2001, Schultz heard and felt what all pitchers fear — a pop.

“It was wear-and-tear, and, finally, on one pitch it snapped,” he explained.

The “it” was the ullnar collateral ligament (UCL), which connects the muscles of the forearm to the inside of the elbow joint.

“It balled up in my wrist,” he said.

But, unfortunately, Schultz didn’t know this initially, and kept pitching in the game and season.

“They thought it was tennis elbow,” he explained of the doctors’ initial diagnosis. It took more pain before Schultz finally found out the extent of his injury.

Schultz had Tommy John surgery to repair his elbow, which is fully recovered, but his days as a hard-throwing pitcher are behind him due to soreness from the initial shoulder injury. He never pitched his sophomore year at Bethany.

Today, he is primarily a fielder for Winsted, and occasionally takes the hill. But now he must rely on control rather than velocity, which once hovered around 86 miles-per-hour.

Schultz plans on having his shoulder worked on after the summer to relieve some discomfort.

Unfortunately, Schultz’s experience is not uncommon among athletes.

According to a study done by American Sports Data, Inc., “of the 35-40 million annual injury-related emergency room visits, approximately 10 percent are sports-induced.” The study also indicates that less serious sports injuries — those not requiring emergency room treatment — are five times as numerous.

Kari Hegg, a physicians assistant (PA-C) at Allina Medical Clinic in Cokato, says stubbornness, like that shown by Schultz during his team’s run to the state tournament, plays a big factor in athletes suffering serious injuries.

“For teenagers, sports is their life and they think if they take time off they will not get into college,” she explained. “In high school it is a lot of overuse injuries — when athletes don’t want to stop.”

Hegg said doctors and athletic trainers can request the athlete rests to give the injured area time to heal, but it is ultimately up to the athlete.

“It’s easier if they have a broken bone and I can put a cast on it and say they can’t play for six weeks,” she explained. “The longer you wait when something flairs up, the longer it takes to heal up.”

Hegg said the number and type of cases she sees depends on the season and sport.

“Usually, in the early part of the summer, we will see more injuries from skate boarding, biking, and broken arms and wrists,” she said.

Football and hockey players are more prone to concussions and shoulder injuries, while gymnasts tend to suffer from back pain. Hegg said ankle injuries are the most frequent injuries, simply because they can occur in almost any sport.

“I see a lot of ankle sprains and rotator cuff tendinitis of the shoulder,” she said. “It’s not that often that you see a knee with a torn ligament. It’s more often a sprain.”

There is no way to completely eliminate the chance of getting injured while playing sports, but Hegg did offer some preventative suggestions.

“If you are jumping into a sport, try to not go full tilt into it,” she said. “Ease into the sport and do stretches.”

She recommends stretching after the activity, when the muscles are warmed up. Preceding the activity with a warmup, like light jogging or walking, is also a good idea.

“The main thing is if you do have an injury, listen to your body,” Hegg stressed.

Published August 2006

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