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Is it Little League elbow?

With baseball season in full swing, young pitchers need to be monitored to ensure that they stay healthy. Care of the young thrower’s elbow is essential to prevent injury to the growth center and long-term damage.

What is Little League elbow?
  • Inflammation of the growth center on the inside of the elbow.
  • The motion of throwing causes stress on both the ligament and forearm tendons that attach at the growth center.
  • Ongoing inflammation at the growth center leads to pain and weakness of the growth center.

What are the symptoms?

  • Pain along the bony bump on the inside of the elbow.
  • Swelling, redness or stiffness in the elbow.
  • Pain ranging from mild soreness after throwing to severe pain and swelling if the growth center pulls away from the bone.

How is it diagnosed?

  • A physician can typically diagnose this injury upon examination.
  • X-rays may be taken to assess the status of the growth center.

How is it treated?
  • Most cases are treated with six weeks of complete rest from throwing.
  • Once pain-free with daily activity and upon examination, the athlete may start a progressive return to throwing.
  • Athletes are often allowed to bat and cross-train during this period of rest.
  • Sometimes physical therapy is used to address any areas of stiffness or weakness in the shoulder, elbow or core muscles.
  • It typically takes a full 12 weeks to be back to game-speed throwing.
  • Early diagnosis and treatment can avoid any long-term complications from this injury.
  • In severe cases, when the growth plate has pulled away from the bone, surgery may be needed.

How can it be prevented?

  • Monitoring pitch counts and overall throwing volume is the main preventive measure.
  • Proper pitching mechanics and avoiding throwing breaking pitches until age 14 are also essential.
  • Year-round throwing is believed to make overuse injuries such as this more common. A three-month break from pitching (not necessarily from baseball) is valuable in preventing injury.
  • A young thrower should never be allowed to throw if he or she has elbow pain.
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