Little League elbow
Wednesday, July 8, 2015
The crack of a baseball bat conjures memories of days at the diamond, hot dogs in hand. Baseball is America’s favorite pastime where everyone can participate as fans or players. Even children can play on Little League teams, but playing in our national pastime can take a toll on their growing bodies. One of the most notable ways this occurs is Little League elbow.
Little League elbow
Little League elbow is an injury to the growth plate in the elbow. As the name suggests, it is commonly associated with baseball pitchers between the ages of 8 and 15. The injury’s development is due to repeated overhead throwing with improper mechanics, lack of muscle strength and endurance, throwing breaking pitches (such as curveballs and sliders) or simply pitching too much.
Symptoms of Little League elbow develop gradually without any specific injury, although young athletes may feel an occasional painful “pop” when they pitch. As time goes on, the athlete may develop aching, sharp pain and swelling inside the elbow. Initially these symptoms may only be present when pitching, but as it progresses it may happen any time the child throws. The most advanced stages include small fractures in the growth plate, bone chips and spurs in the elbow, and even early arthritis.
These symptoms can be difficult to catch early, as the young athlete may try to minimize them to continue playing.
To prevent Little League elbow, it is imperative that the athlete stay active year round and have periods of active rest, where they are playing sports that do not require throwing. This period of active rest should last 2 to 3 months to give proper recovery time. It is also important that during the season, leagues (and parents) enforce pitching guidelines and rules ensuring that each player’s throwing is limited.
Players also should strive for proper mechanics and technique while pitching, and master command, control and the speed of their pitches. They should also avoid maximum effort throws – throwing as hard as they can.
The most important piece of prevention is for young athletes to listen to their bodies. They should know what is normal and what is not, and discontinue activities that cause pain. For more information, read “Listen to Your Body When Training for Spring Sports,” a blog post by Alyssa Schultz, a Orthopedics & Sports Medicine BayCare Clinic physician assistant.
If your child is showing symptoms of Little League elbow, it is vital to seek medical attention. X-rays are necessary to determine the extent of the damage. An orthopedic surgeon can then create an individualized treatment plan.
“This plan will likely consist of a period of rest, followed by physical therapy and rehabilitation,” says Dr. Shawn Hennigan, an orthopedic surgeon with Orthopedics & Sports Medicine BayCare Clinic. “After their therapy is complete, we can then look forward to the possibility of them gradually returning to throwing and pitching.”
To request an appointment with an orthopedic surgeon, call 877-884-8796 or do so online.
The Orthopedic Urgent Care is also available for immediate orthopedic assistance from 4 to 8 p.m. weekdays at 2020 Riverside Drive, Green Bay. Walk-ins are welcome.
Shawn Hennigan, MD, is a Board Certified orthopaedic surgeon. He is also fellowship trained in Shoulder and Elbow Surgery. Among other notable achievements, Dr. Hennigan performed the region’s first reverse total shoulder replacement.