Little League Elbow
A common problem among young adolescent baseball players, little league elbow is a growth plate injury to the inner part of the elbow that occurs as a result of repetitive throwing motions. Most patients are able to return to their favorite sport pain-free after a period of rest and conservative treatments.
Causes and Symptoms of Little League Elbow
A common problem among young adolescent baseball players, little league elbow is a growth plate injury to the medial (inner) part of the elbow that occurs as a result of repetitive throwing motions. The growth plate is the attachment site for the group of muscles that flex the wrist and rotate the forearm.
Little league elbow is most often the result of repetitive throwing motions, which can create an overload or overstress injury to the medial elbow. During the throwing motion, a large amount of tension is placed on the medial elbow structures that can cause injury to the growth plate of the medial (inside) of the elbow.
If left untreated, little league elbow can become more severe, causing ligaments and tendons tears. In addition, tearing may cause tiny bone fragments to break off and travel to other areas of the elbow joint, disrupting normal bone growth, resulting in deformity.
Patients suffering from little league elbow often report a gradual increase of medial elbow pain and stiffness, particularly while throwing. As the condition progresses, the child will often experience a decrease in throwing velocity and effectiveness.
Risk Factors for Developing Little League Elbow
Adolescent pitchers, and other adolescent players who throw repetitively, have a high risk of developing little league elbow. If left untreated, little league elbow can lead to major complications and jeopardize a child's ability to remain active in a sport, such as softball. Other factors that contribute to the development of little league elbow and the increased injury rates seen in pediatric athlete include:
- Increased single-sport participation with year-round training
- Participation in higher intensity sports at younger ages
- Longer competitive seasons
- Conditioning and training errors
However, overuse injuries, such as little league elbow, can often be prevented. Prevention techniques include:
- Proper warm-up (including stretching, running, easy and gradual throwing)
- Rotate positions while on the field
- Concentrate on age-appropriate pitching
- Adhere to pitching count guidelines
- Avoid pitching on multiple teams with overlapping seasons
- In the event of elbow pain, do not pitch
- Communicate regularly about how your arm feels
- Emphasize control, accuracy, and good mechanics
Little League Elbow Treatment Options
If caught early enough and treated properly by a pediatric orthopaedic physician, little league elbow will heal completely and not cause any permanent elbow damage. To ensure a proper diagnosis, the orthoapedic physician will review the patient’s symptoms, clinical examination results, and x-rays.
Little league elbow treatment options are dependent on the extent of the growth plate injury. Left untreated, throwing injuries in the elbow can be very complex. However, younger children tend to respond better to non-surgical treatments, such as:
- Rest the affected area
- Apply ice packs to bring down any swelling
- Utilize non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS)
If pain persists after a few days of complete rest of the affected arm, or if pain recurs when throwing is resumed, it is recommended that the child stop the activity until cleared by a pediatric orthopaedic physician. Based on the severity of the injury, a 6-week period of rest may be recommended. Upon approval from the physician, a slow progressive throwing program may be instituted over the next 6-8 weeks. While rare, surgery or casting is occasionally necessary to relieve pain symptoms.
Little League Elbow in Tampa-St. Petersburg, Florida
Dr. Drew Warnick and Dr. Paul Benfanti are board-certified sports medicine specialists at Children’s Orthopaedic and Scoliosis Surgery Associates, renowned for their high quality care in the treatment of pediatric sports injuries. To learn more about Children’s Orthopaedic’s sports medicine specialties, schedule an appointment at one their four Tampa Area offices.