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Dead arm syndrome is a condition that affects the shoulder. It’s caused by repeated movements, which place stress on the joint.

Over time, the shoulder becomes unstable, resulting in discomfort and pain in the area. This can make it difficult to perform overhead motions, like pitching a baseball or serving a tennis ball.

You’re more likely to develop dead arm syndrome if you play certain sports. Similarly, if you repeatedly lift your arm during manual work, you might be at risk.

If you’re curious about dead arm syndrome, read on. This article will explain the symptoms, causes, and treatments, along with how to prevent it.

Dead arm syndrome is pain or weakness in the upper arm during a throwing movement. It can happen slowly or suddenly, like when your arm speeds up to throw a ball.

In addition to pain and weakness, the condition can make your arm feel limp or “dead.” Other common symptoms include:

  • stiffness
  • numbness or tingling
  • fatigue in the affected arm
  • reduced throwing speed
  • inability to throw with force
  • reduced control when moving your shoulder

Typically, dead arm syndrome is caused by overuse.

Repetitive movements, like throwing, can stretch the ligaments in your shoulder. Ligaments are bands of tissue that connect bones and support the joints. As the ligaments stretch, they become loose, eventually causing shoulder instability and discomfort.

Dead arm syndrome can also occur when the rotator cuff tendons are injured. The rotator cuff is a group of muscles and tendons that keep your upper arm bone in place. It stabilizes your shoulder, allowing you to move with a full range of motion.

But movements like throwing can place a lot of force on the shoulder. This means the rotator cuff needs to work extra hard to stabilize your shoulder during the movement. When done repeatedly, this can injure the rotator cuff tendons, causing dead arm syndrome.

Some individuals have a higher risk for developing dead arm syndrome. This includes people who repeatedly perform overhead motions, like throwing.

Individuals with a higher risk include:

  • baseball pitchers
  • water polo players
  • tennis players
  • volleyball players
  • young athletes
  • manual laborers

Treating dead arm syndrome involves improving the stability and strength of your shoulder. The best approach depends on the severity of your injury and how often you perform overhead movements.

Treatment may include:

  • Rest. It’s essential to reduce your activity, whether you have mild or severe symptoms. This will prevent your symptoms from getting worse.
  • Physical therapy. As your shoulder starts to feel better, you’ll likely need to see a physical therapist. They can show you how to do shoulder strengthening exercises.
  • Ice. Applying ice to your shoulder can help reduce any pain.
  • Anti-inflammatory medications. You can take anti-inflammatory drugs, like ibuprofen, to further ease the pain.
  • Surgery. If the above treatments fail to work, or if you have severe symptoms, you may need surgery. A surgeon can repair the damaged tendons or ligaments in your shoulder.

If you do get surgery, you’ll need to wear a sling. You’ll also start physical therapy about 4 to 6 weeks after surgery.

Also, before you can return to your usual activity, your doctor will provide a “return to play” regimen. This program will help you safely regain strength over time.

It’s important to get approval from your doctor before returning to your normal activity, even if you don’t get surgery. Returning too soon might re-injure your shoulder and extend the healing process.

The overall healing time depends on your symptoms. If you have mild symptoms, it might take just a few days to heal. But if you have a severe injury or need surgery, it can take 2 to 4 months, or up to a year.

Understandably, it can be difficult to avoid overusing your shoulder, especially if you’re a professional athlete. But there are things you can do to lower your risk.

Consider the following tips:

  • Do strengthening exercises. Keep your core, upper back, and shoulders strong by doing strengthening exercises. This will help improve shoulder stability.
  • Use the right technique. Take the time to learn the correct technique for your sport. It’s one of the best ways to minimize the risk of injury.
  • Change body positioning. When possible, try to switch up the way you perform overhead movements. This will help reduce repeated stress on the shoulder.
  • Stretch regularly. Follow a stretching routine designed for your specific sport. Always stretch and condition your body before and after activity.
  • Rest. Let your body rest, especially after periods of intense activity. If you’re a coach, limit the number of throws your players do per game or week.

Dead arm syndrome is caused by overuse. It occurs when repeated overhead motions, like throwing a ball, injures the muscles or tendons in the shoulder. Common symptoms of dead arm syndrome include pain, weakness, and numbness in the upper arm.

Athletes who play sports like baseball, tennis, and water polo are more likely to develop the condition. Manual laborers who frequently reach overhead also have a higher risk. Treatment includes ice, anti-inflammatory medications, and plenty of rest. It also requires strengthening exercises to improve shoulder stability.

Luckily, it’s possible to minimize the risk of dead arm syndrome by taking breaks and using the right technique. Strengthening exercises and stretches will also help condition your body and keep your shoulders strong.