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Spring is on the horizon and baseball players are gearing up for the season. During this time of year, we see a lot of baseball players in our clinic with elbow pain. Little League elbow, also known as medial epicondyle apophysitis, is one of the most common conditions causing elbow pain in young athletes involved in throwing sports.
Little League elbow is an overuse condition in which repeated stress to the elbow leads to inflammation and irritation to the growth plate on the inside of the elbow in athletes who are still growing.
In skeletally immature individuals, the growth plate tends to be more vulnerable to injury than the ligaments and tendons surrounding the elbow.
This injury most often affects pitchers ages 9-14, though baseball players in other positions as well as other overhead athletes such as volleyball players and football quarterbacks may also be susceptible to little league elbow.
The symptoms of Little League elbow include pain on the inside of the elbow (on the pinky side) that can sometimes be accompanied by swelling and stiffness. Pain is aggravated by throwing and usually becomes worse with continued throwing or pitching.
Early recognition of Little League elbow is important for reducing the severity of injury. A visit to your doctor can determine the severity of the injury and treatment options.
While resting from pitching and throwing, the athlete can continue with strength and conditioning training.
Return to throwing should be in a progressive manner and must be pain free. An evaluation of throwing and pitching mechanics is also important to reduce the risk of future injuries.
The risk of developing Little League elbow can be reduced by adhering to pitch count recommendations as well as recommendations for pitch types depending on athlete age. Throwing too many pitches, not taking enough rest days, and throwing certain types of pitches such as sliders and curveballs at a young age increase the risk of developing little league elbow.
Visit the American Sports Medicine Institute for recommended guidelines for pitch counts, pitch type, and recovery days.
Written by: Leslie Schein, DPT, OCS, Physical Therapist, Children’s Hospital Colorado.