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“Dead arm” is a term used broadly in several different sports, and it does not refer to one specific type of injury. It can therefore be a little difficult to understand what exactly dead arm is, and how the term is used in certain sports. This article sets out to answer the question: what is a dead arm in baseball?
In baseball, the term dead arm refers to a type of fatigue or exhaustion that a pitcher experiences in their throwing arm. More specifically, it is used to describe a pitcher who does not have any discernible damage or a diagnosable injury in their arm, but who is not pitching as well as usual and who does not feel one hundred percent healthy.
Dead arm is most commonly a problem in Spring Training and the early weeks of the season. It is hard for pitchers to keep their arms in shape during the offseason when they aren’t pitching in high-level games. If a pitcher shows up to Spring Training and starts throwing too much too soon, it can lead to a case of dead arm.
Pitchers can also develop dead arm later in the season, but it is still usually caused by insufficient preparation during the offseason and Spring Training. The baseball schedule is a long one, and pitchers must be properly stretched out and warmed up prior to the season in order to remain healthy all year.
How Is Dead Arm Diagnosed?
It is unusual for dead arm to be diagnosed in a pitcher straightaway. Instead, a team does not usually pronounce a pitcher to have dead arm until that pitcher is seen to have been struggling for multiple appearances in a row.
After a few such difficult appearances, a pitcher, their coaching staff, and their trainers might jointly decide that the pitcher is dealing with dead arm.
What Is the Definition of Dead Arm?
As the term dead arm is most commonly used, it is a non-specific phenomenon that cannot possibly have a single scientific explanation or definition.
In an article from 2018 published on Major League Baseball’s official website, dead arm is defined as such: “the term ‘dead arm’ is commonly used throughout baseball, but it does not refer to an actual injury. The phrase is used when there is no structural damage in the arm or shoulder but instead a feeling of fatigue.”
Some sources, such as a 2011 article in The Huffington Post, cite decreased velocity as a necessary symptom of dead arm, but not every source believes to be a necessary criterion.
A paper published in the medical journal Arthroscopy: The Journal of Arthroscopic and Related Surgery entitled “The Disabled throwing shoulder” offers a much more specific definition of dead arm. The authors define dead arm as: “any pathologic shoulder condition in which the thrower is unable to throw with pre-injury velocity and control.”
Other sources offer even more specific definitions. The Wikipedia page for “Dead Arm Syndrome” describes a very specific cause and effect of this condition. According to the Wikipedia entry, dead arm is an unstable shoulder injury that can lead to dislocation.
While this entry is sourced from several reputable scientific journals, it does not accurately describe dead arm the way that it is commonly used in Major League Baseball.
Do Pitchers with Dead Arm Go on the Injured List?
If the dead arm is particularly bad, the pitcher might be placed on the injured list for a brief time – the cause will usually be cited as “soreness” – but because dead arm is not usually an actual injury, many pitchers try their best to pitch though the pain and fatigue instead of taking any time off.
Ultimately, it is up to the team and the individual player how to best deal with a case of dead arm. No two cases of dead arm are exactly the same, and so no two cases will have the exact same course of treatment.
Is it Safe to Pitch with Dead Arm?
Players with dead arm do not have any structural damage to their shoulder or arm, and so they are not at risk of making the injury any worse by continuing to pitch through it.
However, when athletes are dealing with soreness in certain muscles, they will sometimes try to make up for it by over-using or improperly using other muscles in their body. This can lead to other injuries. For example, a player pitching with a sore arm could be at risk of injuring their back or their legs.
As long as a pitcher is careful with their body and communicates properly with their trainers and coaches, it should still be safe to pitch with dead arm. In fact, pitching through the pain can sometimes be the best method of treatment.
What Is the Treatment for Dead Arm?
The most common advice for pitchers dealing with dead arm – whether they are professionals or little leaguers – is to keep throwing, but not to push themselves quite as hard as they’d like to.
After the onset of soreness, some players might be inclined to stop throwing altogether (so as to prevent further injury) or to push themselves even harder (so as to achieve their desired results despite the pain).
The best course of action, however, is to continue to throw, but to take a bit of a step back. That allows the player to build back arm strength without causing themselves any more soreness or exhaustion.
While this is the most common course of action, it is always advisable that a player follows the advice of their coaches, trainers, and medical professionals. No two cases of dead arm are exactly the same, and so each case requires a personalized course of treatment.
Does Dead Arm Ever Require Medical Intervention?
Dead arm can, occasionally, be used to refer to a more specific type of injury. For example, the Wikipedia page for “Dead Arm Syndrome” offers a much more serious definition for this condition. According to this source, dead arm will not just resolve on its own – it requires medical intervention, and in a worse case scenario it might even involve surgery.
However, as previously stated, the term dead arm is rarely used this way in baseball. If a player has an injury that requires more serious treatment (such as a torn labrum) the injury will be referred to as such, rather than being called “dead arm.”
Do Position Players Get Dead Arm Too?
Dead arm is a problem that mostly plagues pitchers, because they throw much harder and much more often than position players typically do. However, there is no reason why a position player can’t get dead arm, and indeed, sometimes they do.
If a position player is dealing with dead arm, they might need to spend some time on the bench or as the designated hitter while getting their arm back to full strength.
Do Athletes in Other Sports Get Dead Arm
Dead arm does not just affect baseball players. It can be a problem for any athlete whose sport requires frequent and vigorous throwing motions. Football quarterbacks sometimes have to deal with dead arm, as do European handball players.