Pitcher’s Elbow: MRI’s Aren’t All the Same

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Here’s a repost from 2014 angelaweight.com. Some great advice for parents of pitchers.


This blog post actually contains a bit of helpful advice. No kidding.

Don’t worry. I’m not going to make a habit of it. But this is something people need to know. Because not knowing about it could result in your health insurance being cancelled. Or your arm slowly rotting off. Or both, which would equal a bad day in my book.

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This is my son Andrew, the one with his leg up in the air, as if he’s tagging the runner out and giving him a roundhouse kick to the skull. I think it’s just the angle, though.

In spite of our best efforts, some tendon or ligament or piston or catalytic converter is causing Andrew occasional pain when he pitches. Back in June, Dr. Stapleton (Mr. Tommy John Surgery) recommended an MRI to see exactly which piece of elbow hardware is malfunctioning and if it’s still covered under the warranty. Since Memorial Day weekend, Andrew’s had a mysterious, on again, off again elbow infirmity.

As caring, responsible, baseball parents who don’t want to be judged and talked about harshly by other baseball parents, James and I have done our best to keep Andrew’s pitching arm healthy. Ya know, no curve balls, only a limited number of pitches per game. No vigorous hand shaking, no fist fights, no arm wrestling, no rock-paper-scissors, no participating in color guard, no directing traffic and limited hitch hiking.

Elite MRI in Dublin was able to get Andrew scheduled quickly. They were super nice. Gave great service. We were very satisfied. And our insurance company approved it, (which is an important piece of this story.)

follow up appointment with Stapleton three days later

STAPLETON: “You’re gonna have to get another MRI. I can’t make out anything on this one.”

James and I weren’t happy with Stapleton. We assumed he’d forgotten his glasses and was giving us the run around, so we had a couple of doctor friends take a look at the MRI film.

Both physicians put on their most strained faces, as if they were constipated and trying to decipher ancient code written in disappearing ink on the wall of an underwater cave.

DOC ONE: “Well, I think that’s his elbow. Or it could be the Virgin Mary or a pterodactyl. I’m not really sure.”

DOC TWO: “yes, that’s definitely his elbow because it’s a right angle. And elbows are right angles. So, yeah, I can read it.”

JAMES: “Can you see his flexor tendon? I think that’s what we’re looking for.”

DOC ONE: “No, honestly, I can’t make out any details. Elite MRI is good for getting folks in quickly and they offer great service, but their imaging magnet isn’t as strong as the hospital’s or the Medical Center’s. Their films are usually good enough for us to work with, but they don’t offer the sharp detail that you need for an elbow image.”

ME: “Well crap. That’s good to know.”

DOC ONE: “yeah, I guess you’ll need a better quality MRI.”

That was two months ago.

We’re now seeing Dr. Jody Smith, an orthopedic surgeon here in Richmond.

DR SMITH: “I’m so sorry, but Cigna didn’t approve another MRI. They said they already paid for one back in June.”

ME: “But that one was bad. No one could read it.”

DR SMITH: “I’ll call Cigna myself and explain that the first one was poor quality, but I can’t promise anything. Insurance companies can be tough to battle.”

So, that’s where we are today. Still no answer from Cigna. Still no MRI for Andrew. Therefore, no real understanding of what’s going on with his elbow. Very frustrating.

I’m not trying to trash Elite MRI. Our experience there was excellent. But if we’d known that there was a magnet quality issue, we’d have used a different provider. Maybe we’re the only ones this has ever happened to. Maybe every other MRI they’ve done has been crystal clear. I don’t know. But I also don’t want anyone else to go through the frustration that we’re dealing with.

Update: After several calls from us and the doctor…using our best telemarketing and blackmail strategies, Cigna approved payment for another MRI, which revealed tendonitis. Apparently, even with our strict pitch counts, etc, Andrew needed a break. So that’s what we’re doing. No pitching for several months. When he’s better, we’ll tailor a pitching strategy that’s right for his arm.

Another Update: That whole experience was a year ago. Andrew’s elbow is doing great. No more tendonitis. But he plays it safe. Stretches, ices and knows to stop throwing the second he feels any pain.

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