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Bowling is an extremely repetitive sport in which you use the exact same motion on each delivery, if you're good at it. Therefore, bowling mostly involves repetitive overuse injuries. Rarely will you experience an acute traumatic injury, unless you drop a ball on your foot. And, believe it or not, I have seen several bowlers break their feet this way.

      Bowling is enjoying a rebirth among baby boomers, who grew up playing the sport and are now introducing it to their own children. Some 40 million Americans bowl more than once a year.


Bowlers who develop a weak arm and shoulder after a night at the lanes should see a doctor about possible nerve damage. The repetitive, explosive release of the heavy ball can cause nerve damage in the arm and shoulder.

      Releasing the bowling ball with a bent-over posture can stretch the nerves between the neck and the armpit and can cause forearm weakness and numbness. Crapshooters develop a similar weakness and numbness in the elbow from constantly throwing dice, so doctors call this illness "crapshooter's elbow."

      As a result of this nerve damage, you may be unable to raise your bowling arm, and you may feel numbness in your bowling thumb and forefinger, as well as a burning sensation over your bowling shoulder.

      The best prescription is rest until the pain subsides, followed by physical therapy. You should completely recover from the nerve damage within several months.


Many bowlers develop a pain on the inner side of the elbow (medial epicondylitis) similar to that seen in baseball pitchers. The muscles that flex the wrist attach by a tendon to the inner point of the elbow. Both the weight of the ball and the active flexing of the wrist on delivery overstress the flexor muscle and its tendon in the elbow. These structures become inflamed and painful.

      Injecting the elbow with cortisone to control the inflammation is not the answer. The proper treatment is a forearm strengthening and flexibility program so that the arm can tolerate the stress of throwing a heavy bowling ball again and again. A strong forearm won't be overstressed and won't feel any pain. Do the exercises for tennis elbow in Chapter 8.


Carpal tunnel syndrome is a very common injury in bowling, which is one of the few sports in which the repeated effort by the wrist is sufficient to cause cumulative damage.

      The repetition of the bowling motionsupporting the heavy ball on the fingers and then propelling itcauses wrist tendons to become swollen. In addition, nerve inflammation sends pain down into the third and fourth fingers of the bowling hand and up into the forearm along the nerve. You may also feel numbness, tingling, and weakness in these two fingers.

      The treatment is to immobilize the wrist with a splint for several weeks and to take antiinflammatory agents. All bowlers should also use a splint when they bowl to prevent excessive movement in the wrist.


When you release the bowling ball, your thumb violently pops out of the thumb hole. This motion can sprain the ligaments on the inner side of the thumb. This is similar to the ligament sprain skiers suffer from getting the thumb caught in the strap of the ski pole. However, the skiing injury is an acute traumatic injury, whereas bowler's thumb is a cumulative injury. A bowler's thumb ligaments are not torn violently but are stretched and frayed from continued, repetitive use.

      Bowler's thumb may respond to rest for four to six weeks, splinting for three weeks, and anti-inflammatory agents. Better placement of the thumb hole so that the thumb doesn't jerk out may also help. A severe injury may require surgery to repair the ligament.


The recurrent stress to the knee as a bowler bends to deliver the ball can irritate the kneecap in people who are prone to develop runner's knee. This injury is primarily due to misalignment of the kneecap. The tightening of the quadriceps muscle in the front of the thigh as the knee bends into the sliding position causes the bowler's kneecap to be pulled back into its groove. If the kneecap is at all misaligned, it will rub the groove.

      Supporting the arch in the foot can prevent the kneecap from getting out of alignment. An arch support or orthotic device in the bowling shoe can adjust the bowler's foot position as she slides to release the ball. The 30° Leg Extension in Chapter 11 can help build up the muscles around the knee to keep the kneecap in place.

How to Improve Your Score

The most important step you can take as a bowler is to keep your elbow strong. The weight program outlined for treatment of tennis elbow in Chapter 8 is of great value as a year-round exercise to prevent injury. Also, by strengthening these muscles, you will develop more power and better control of the ball.

      Bowlers flex the shoulder muscles and contract the biceps in order to propel the ball down the lane. You can strengthen your shoulder and arm by doing the exercises (Arm Curl, Reverse Arm Curl, and Front Lift) outlined in Chapter 6.

      Focus your stretching program on your shoulder and arm. When you take your warmup tosses, you are preparing your shoulder and arm to stretch more. After a few tosses, do the shoulder stretches described in Chapter 16.

      To loosen up your forearm, do the elbow stretches illustrated in Chapter 8.

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