Back in my days as an NCAA pitcher, the notion of becoming injured was always on my mind; both I and my coaches knew that a badly strained elbow or shoulder could take me out of commission for a while or even put an end to my baseball career. Now, however, when I find myself discussing the various injuries I have sustained as a professional card thrower, my explanations are often met with looks of surprise. Although most people do not know how taxing this career can ultimately be on your body, the repetitive motion of flicking the elbow and snapping the wrist can create serious problems for people in my profession. Fortunately, these risks can be mitigated through caretaking and practice of proper techniques.
I have truly thrown cards in my life more times than I can count, which eventually caused me the same problems that a tennis player or golfer might encounter. Hours upon hours of practice have given me what I can only compare to Carpal Tunnel. This really adds up when combined with thousands of performances, both official and unofficial – not surprisingly, the first thing that usually happens when I tell people what I do is that they ask me to throw a card. The first signs that I was developing a problem came when I was featuring on the show Time Warp early on in my career. I could tell that there was something wrong with my elbow while at the show, and a visit to the doctor showed me that my practicing had done some pretty serious damage. A few Cortisone shots and an MRI later, I found out that I had three muscle tears, chronic tendonitis, and an Ulner Collateral ligament that had essentially been worn away and was now non-existent.
Now that I had identified the source of my problem, the next move was to make repairs and begin taking preventative measures that would help to minimize future risk. I opted to undergo the “Tommy John” surgery that MLB pitchers often use to alleviate their elbow problems. Because I simply wouldn’t be able to sit out for the entire 6-12 month recovery period and put a stop to my career, I ended up grafting a ligament from my hamstring which allowed me to avoid future surgeries and shorten my recovery period to 6-8 weeks. Even then, I would have to wait another 6 months or so before the card-throwing portion of my show could be reintroduced.
After the recovery period my elbow felt healed, but something was still not right. Even years later when the strength had returned to my arm I was feeling some soreness that had not previously been a problem. After deciding to get an X-ray, I found out that there was a loose piece of bone in my elbow that had been bugging me for so long. The removal and fast six-week recovery period gave me the confidence to begin throwing again, but my enthusiasm to be back at full health caused me to overdo it and tear the replacement ligament that I now had in my elbow. Soon afterwards, when playing in a baseball game, I felt an unexpected pain in my elbow and my arm swelled up an insane amount. The ligament had failed and had fallen completely off of the bone.
The story of my road to recovery goes on and on, and I did not find myself in good condition again before multiple surgeries and lots of patient waiting. After a great deal of healing, conditioning, and exercise, I am now as good as ever but am being far more careful than I was in the past. Going forward, I know that I must take precautionary measures (warming my arm up, ensuring that I don’t keep throwing if it hurts too much) to keep from ending up at the doctor’s office again.
I tell this story not to scare my readers, but to inform them of some of the risks that they may face if they choose to pursue card throwing in a serious way. Those who enjoy throwing cards casually are not at as high of a risk, but should still keep in mind that their elbows and arms are not invincible. Always take rest when your arm begins to hurt, and warm yourself up if you are about to go 100% in a performance (or even in practice). Be conscious of your surroundings and pay attention to the signs that show when you are beginning to develop a problem. As long as you stay on top of your practice and your health, card throwing can be a pretty safe and incredibly fun activity – be sure that your skill is matched by your caution!