The Low-Down on Little League Elbow

With baseball season officially upon us, injuries are inevitable. (Much like allergies.) In fact, doctors see an increase in elbow conditions among young baseball players during this time. One of the most common elbow conditions is medial epicondylar apophysitis, generally known as Little League elbow.

What is Little League elbow?

Little League elbow is categorized as an overuse injury (injury sustained to a part of the body from a repeated action) that affects a growth plate found on the inside of the elbow. Growth plates are easily injured on children. Damage to growth plates can result in the improper or misshapen growth of the bone.

Who gets Little League elbow?

Little League elbow is most frequently found in pitchers but has also been seen in outfielders, infielders and catchers. It typically occurs in children between the ages of 8 and 15, and may even be seen in adolescents as old as 17 (if the bones haven’t finished growing).

This condition is directly linked to a certain number of throws each week, including games and practice time. The general guidelines are as follows:

  • 75 pitches a week for 8 to 10 year-olds
  • 100 for 11 to 12 year-olds
  • 125 for 13 years and above

The injury typically occurs when a child exceeds the number of throws for his/her age range. Little League elbow is especially prominent in baseball players who participate in the sport year-round, as well as those who play for more than one team.

What are the symptoms of Little League elbow?

A child should stop playing immediately if any of the following symptoms appear during or after a game/practice:

  • Aching or sharp pain on the inside of the elbow
  • Locking of the elbow joint
  • Restricted range of motion
  • Swelling of the elbow

How is Little League elbow treated?

In the majority of cases, Little League elbow can be effectively managed with conservative treatment, which is done in three stages:

Rest. It is initially recommended that all throwing activities cease and the elbow be allowed to rest. Ice and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medication (i.e., Aleve®) can help relieve swelling and pain.

Rehabilitation. Your child’s doctor may recommend physical therapy exercises to help heal the injury and prevent it from reoccurring. This may include range of motion and strength exercises for the forearm, upper arm, back and shoulder.

Return to play. Children may return to playing when the pain is completely gone and they have full range of motion. This should include a gradual change over time from non-throwing positions (such as a designated hitter) to full throwing positions, like pitching.

As a treatment, surgery is rarely necessary. In such cases, it is only designed for girls over 12 and boys over 14. Depending on the type of injury the child sustains, surgery may include:

  • Bone grafting to replace missing bone from the elbow
  • Reattaching a ligament
  • Removing loose bone fragments that tore away from the growth plate due to a detached ligament or tendon

How can Little League Elbow be prevented?

Though there is no 100 percent guarantee that Little League elbow can be prevented, a child’s risk may be reduced considerably by taking the following precautions:

  • Always warm up before throwing
  • Avoid certain types of throws, such as curve balls and breaking pitches until the age of 14. (With these types of throws, it is difficult to successfully execute the spin the ball requires. Children compensate for their inability to hold the ball properly, resulting in awkward twisting of the arm and elbow)
  • Count pitches to ensure a safe range (the coach should count, too)
  • Avoid playing other full-throwing positions on pitching days
  • Stop playing if pain occurs and see a doctor as soon as possible
  • Rest for a solid 24 to 48 hours after playing, including practice

For information on Little League elbow or other overuse injuries, or to schedule an appointment with one of our sports medicine specialists, contact Northeast Orthopedics and Sports Medicine today.

7 Simple Ways to Keep Your Spine in Shape

The human spine is a vital and fascinating structure of the skeleton. Comprised of 120 muscles, 26 vertebrae, 220 ligaments and over 100 joints, the spine is complex in its workings yet extremely flexible. (For example, did you know that the spine can bend far enough to form two-thirds of a circle?)

However, that complexity and versatility can come at a price. Because of its elaborate makeup and the important part it plays in bearing the weight of the body, it is also delicate and prone to injury. In fact, back pain is the most common pain experienced, with four out of five adults enduring some type of back pain during their lifetime.

How do you ensure that you are the one out of five?

Follow these 7 simple tips and tricks to effectively manage the health of your spine:

  • Avoid smoking. The nicotine in tobacco products restricts blood flow to the spinal discs, potentially damaging the discs over time.
  • Maintain good sleeping habits. Sleeping on your back or stomach places undue stress on the back. Sleep on your side—ideally with a pillow between your knees—to reduce the risk of added pressure.
  • Keep moving. Whether you’re at work or home, motion keeps the body and spine in shape. If you’re at work, get up and walk around approximately every hour to stretch the muscles and promotes blood flow. In your free time, stay active with a visit to the gym or by playing a favorite sport.
  • Lift objects properly. Improper lifting can result in a strain, sprain or worse. To lift an object from the floor safely, make sure the object is as close to your body as possible to maintain a level center of gravity. Then, when picking up the object, use your legs to lift. (Do not bend at the waist.) Finally, keep your back straight when holding the object. When it comes time to transport the object, make sure you have a clear path to your destination in order to avoid tripping. Please note that using your best judgment when lifting a heavy object is key. If the item is too heavy, do not attempt to lift it yourself. Ask for help.
  • Maintain a healthy weight. Keeping within 10 pounds of your ideal body weight keeps additional weight and strain off of your back.
  • Sit the right way. When sitting for a prolonged period of time—such as at work—keep your knees and hips level with one another and your feet flat on the floor. This avoids the weight of your body shifting, straining one part of the spine over the other.
  • Stay hydrated. Keeping hydrated helps to maintain soft tissues, causes fluidity in joints and keeps spinal discs from shrinking.

For more information on ways to keep your spine smiling or to schedule an appointment with one of our specialists, contact Northeast Orthopedics and Sports Medicine  today.