Little League elbow is an overuse injury that affects young athletes as a result of their placing too much pressure on the elbow in sports, usually among pitchers. The condition results in swelling and limited range of motion of the elbow, and it develops because the young arm is not yet fully developed.
The repeated overhead motion of a young pitcher, and pitching too much, causes Little League elbow. When preteen and teenage baseball players practice every day at home, plus game days, these young athletes can easily injure the elbow of their throwing arm.
The elbow encompasses the intersection of the upper arm bone (humerus) and the two forearm bones: the radius (from the elbow to the thumb side of the hand) and the ulna (from the elbow to the pinky side). There is no “cap” bone in the elbow like there is in the knee, so these three bones do all of the work and are therefore prone to injury.
Causes of Little League Elbow
The repetitive stress and motion of overhand pitching is hard on young arms, especially during the acceleration phase of throwing. That is the moment when young ligaments and tendons can pop or the growing bone with a weaker growth plate can be broken.
Many young baseball players with this injury try to hide their symptoms in order to continue playing. The effects are an aching, sharp pain while pitching, but it can progress to the development of bone spurs, early arthritis, loose bone chips, and loosened ligaments.
How Can I Prevent This Condition?
Young pitchers can prevent developing Little League elbow by warming up, cooling down, stretching, using proper form while pitching, and limiting the number of pitches you throw in any given session. It is important to allow the arm to rest and heal from any minor internal injuries before they become worse.
The most stressful pitches on the structures of the arm are breaking pitches, such as the curve or the slider. These pitches are not recommended to players under 14 for curves and under 16 for sliders, because they have the potential to cause permanent damage to the elbow, wrist, and arm.
Diagnosing Little League Elbow
An X-ray is normally the best tool in diagnosing Little League elbow. The physician is particularly interested in analyzing the medial epicondyle (the lower end of the upper arm bone, or humerus), the olecranon epiphysis (at the bony part of the elbow), and the capitellum’s articular surface (the cartilage-covered area at the end of the humerus).
The doctor will also verify whether the growth plate is still growing normally. X-ray scans can verify or rule out loose bone chips or the formation of bone spurs in the elbow.
Is There Any Treatment?
The first step to treating Little League elbow is a cessation of all throwing motions, and the use of anti-inflammatory medications. The second step involves physical therapy, which will focus on the range of motion of the elbow, strength training of the arms and shoulders, and strengthening the back and core.
Most cases of Little League elbow heal themselves after a break of several weeks. However, the athlete should maintain a year-round fitness regimen in order to reduce sudden overexertion of the elbow during baseball season.When the athlete’s range of motion and strength is back to normal, they can resume playing. The coach may bring them back into the game gradually, such as covering first base or the outfield. This will allow the arm to gradually rebuild to its previous strength.
Sports Doctors in Maryland
Your orthopedist will show you how to practice proper form and strengthening all year round. If you follow your doctor’s advice, you’ll find you will have fewer injuries and be able to play more consistently.
If you live in the Maryland area, contact our team at Greater Chesapeake Hand to Shoulder by calling us at (410) 296-6232 or request an appointment online. We’re here to help keep you healthy at every age, at every level of physical activity.