Parent Alert: The Dangers of Little League Elbow
Little League Elbow most commonly
occurs in kids ages 8-15.
You do everything you can to protect your babies. From making sure they wear their helmets when riding a bicycle to dealing with school bullies, you’re the parental superhero devoted to guarding your kids.
With baseball season and Little League in full swing, you should be aware of the dangers even it can bring.
One of the most common injuries from baseball, known as Little League Elbow, occurs when the growth plate in the inner part of their elbow gets injured from repetitive throwing of the ball. Since the threat lies in the weakness of the cartilage that makes up the growth plate, it most commonly occurs in kids ages 8-15.
Even though baseball doesn’t appear to be as dangerous as football, there are two particular phases during a baseball throw that can harm a growing body. One is during the acceleration phase, which creates a pulling force on the growth plate in the inner elbow. Then when a child throws the ball, the elbow becomes further stressed as he makes a powerful and downward snap of the wrist to release the ball. If overuse of the elbow occurs without any significant rest, the cartilage in the growth plate will weaken and possibly even detach from the arm bone.
And don’t think this only happens to pitchers—it can happen to a kid playing in any position. So how do you know if something is wrong?
While symptoms generally include sharp pain or swelling in the inner elbow, an x-ray will then be necessary to identify the extent of the growth plate damage. Imaging will also reveal if there are any small fractures or pieces of bone that might have fragmented around the arm as well.
If Little League Elbow is suspected, the following steps are simple. Number one is to make sure your son or daughter stops throwing a baseball. Next step is to keep the inner elbow iced and pay a visit to the doctor to find out the severity of the injury.
Although treatment can be as simple as resting and icing the area, it’s important for young ones to take a baseball break for four to six weeks. If the injury is treated early enough, he might be able to play an infield position or at least allowed to bat.
In more serious cases, a cast or surgery might be necessary to reattach the growth plate, which will require around three months of downtime.
Once the elbow has fully healed, it’s important that your child attends physical therapy and gradually returns to playing baseball. This will include starting off in non-throwing positions, such as designated hitter, to positions where little throwing is necessary, such as first base. Once they’ve eased back into the game, they can return to the pitcher’s mound.
While there’s no simple answer to preventing Little League Elbow, you can take the following steps to keep your kids safe and healthy:
- Make sure kids are properly warming up before throwing.
- Count pitches and make sure he’s not throwing too often, including when he’s off the baseball field (i.e. at home, during lessons, gym class). Most leagues require pitch counts, which vary by age.
- No curve balls or breaking pitches should be allowed for kids under 14, since it requires twisting their wrist and elbow to get the ball to rotate.
- Kids should engage in fitness throughout the year, particularly resistance training, which strengthens and conditions important parts of the body, such as the arms, shoulders, back, trunk and hip.
If you need to talk to a specialist, our Healthplex® Sports Medicine physicians are available to help people of all ages maintain wellness, increase fitness and maximize athletic performance.