By Matthew Taylor, M.D.
Sports Medicine Physician at The Corvallis Clinic
Spring has arrived and with it the start of another Little League Baseball and Softball season. The ping of the aluminum bat, the smell of the leather glove, and the dirt stains on uniforms are all part of the game.
And so are the sore elbows.
The cause of Little League Elbow
Kids are not just little adults. Their bodies, especially their skeletons, are very different. Growing bones are doing just that – growing. Where these bones grow are areas of cartilage, known as growth plates, that are not as strong as bones. Additionally, where tendons and ligaments attach to bones there can be a growth plate known as an apophysis. On the inner part of the elbow is one of these growth plates. The cartilage is the weak spot in the elbow, weaker than the bone and the other soft tissues.
Stress placed across the elbow can cause inflammation across the growth plate. This can lead to pain and swelling, which is generally referred as Little League Elbow, a phrase that actually covers a number of different possible problems in the elbow of young athletes.
The most common problem is the classic Little League Elbow, or what’s known in medical terms as medial epicondyle apophysitis. If ignored, it can lead to separation and even fragmentation of the growth plate. It can even end up requiring surgery to fix!
An ounce of prevention …
The good news is the majority of cases can be treated with simple measures. The treatment focuses on resting the elbow until pain stops. In addition to extended rest, physical therapy for strengthening and a return-to-throwing protocol can be utilized to help an athlete return to the game pain free.
In significant cases full recovery may require weeks. So, prevention is vital. Adhere to pitch counts – there is a reason for them – and younger ballplayers should avoid throwing certain types of pitches. And remember, non-pitchers need to report elbow pain as well.
If a young athlete is experiencing elbow pain, please do not ignore it. Have him or her stop throwing and follow up with a doctor as soon as possible to get a proper diagnosis. X-rays assist in the diagnosis and can rule out other significant problems as well.
Together, we can help get young athletes back in the game, having fun, and playing their best.
Matthew Taylor, M.D., is a sports medicine physician with The Corvallis Clinic’s Orthopedics and Sports Medicine Department. He has completed a fellowship in Primary Care Sports Medicine and holds a Certificate of Added Qualifications in Sports Medicine from the American Board of Family Medicine. To schedule an appointment, call 541-754-1276. To view his video, go to Get to Know Dr. Taylor.