clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

The problem of strain

New, 8 comments

If you buy something from an SB Nation link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.

According to both the Associated Press and Nats.com, reports of Ryan Drese's demise were premature; instead of chalking another one up on the scoreboard for "Tommy John surgery" (necessitated by a torn ulnar collateral ligament), Drese has suffered the comparatively minor flexor tendon sprain. He will be out four to six weeks.

I'll be honest with you and confess that, until about fifteen minutes ago, I had no idea what a "flexor tendon sprain" is---and still might not, to tell you the truth. But it's late, and I don't have Will Carroll's phone number handy, so I'm going to try to do the best I can and explain what I think this malady is. First, most authorities (i.e., websites) note that flexor tendon injuries tend to affect one's fingers. The reason for this appears to be simple: if you cut or rupture your flexor tendons, depending on the tendon affected, "you may be unable to bend your finger . . . [or] you may still be able to bend the finger, but not completely, and bending the finger will be painful." According to WebMD, when Mike Matheny was playing for the St. Louis Cardinals, he suffered a "freak injury unrelated to baseball" when he cut himself with a hunting knife, "slic[ing] through the ring finger of his throwing hand." If my memory serves, Matheny suffered this injury during the 2000 postseason.

Obviously, Drese suffered an injury of a different nature. Instead of a cut, he fell victim to a strain. It would appear, based on my layman's scanning of the 'net, that Drese has medial epicondylitis, commonly known as "golfer's elbow." Jean M. Eelma, M.D. (see previous link) writes:

Golfer's elbow causes pain that starts on the inside bump of the elbow, the medial epicondyle. Wrist flexors are the muscles of the forearm that pull the hand forward. The wrist flexors are on the palm side of the forearm. Most of the wrist flexors attach to one main tendon on the medial epicondyle. This tendon is called the common flexor tendon.

The doctor notes that the condition is closely related to "a pinched ulnar nerve as it crosses the elbow." I'm not exactly sure what that means, but it suggests to me, as a layman, that the line between a flexor tendon strain sufferer and a Tommy John surgery recipient is fine, indeed.

According to WebMD, golfer's elbow is "an overuse injury" common in baseball players as well as, yes, golfers. Conservative, non-surgical treatment is considered sufficient to help the tendon heal:

The goal of treatment is to relieve pain and allow the tendon in the elbow to heal. This usually can be done with rest, the use of ice and anti-inflammatory medications, and a physical therapy and exercise program.

This treatment seems entirely in line with what the good doctors are prescribing for Drese. Of course, the separate issue is whether this good news makes much difference for the Nats. Truth be told, Drese is not an impressive pitcher, and---outside of a couple hot stretches, one in '04 and a shorter one upon joining the Nats last season---he's been almost uniformly awful as a big league pitcher. But we hear a lot about Drese's "arm angle," and perhaps strengthening the elbow will enable him to find the right slot during his delivery.