How Is Little Leaguer’s Elbow Treated?
As sports grow in popularity and more young athletes focus on a single sport, we are seeing an increase in overuse injuries like Little Leaguer’s elbow. We explain the treatment options for this painful condition.
The symptoms of overuse injuries appear gradually. Caught up in the thrill of competition, young players may be tempted to ignore early symptoms of Little Leaguer’s elbow—but that would be a mistake. Little Leaguer’s elbow is much easier to treat when it’s identified early, before serious damage has been done to the joint.
The warning signs of Little Leaguer’s elbow can include pain or swelling at the bump on the inside of the elbow, restricted range of motion, locking of the elbow joint, and the sensation of a painful pop when the elbow is used. Young baseball pitchers may first have symptoms only when they pitch. Left untreated, this condition can worsen until any throwing motion causes pain. In advanced stages, this injury can cause fractures of the growth plate, bone chips, or early arthritis.
If you suspect that your child may have symptoms of Little Leaguer’s elbow, the elbow specialists at Summit will conduct an examination and may take X-rays to evaluate whether there has been injury to the growth plate or other damage to the bones.
If the injury is in an early stage, treatment will follow these nonsurgical steps:
- Rest. We don’t want your child to return to baseball and risk further injury until the damage has healed.
- Ice. Ice packs may be used to treat swelling or relieve pain. Although nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs are an option to control pain, they are not usually necessary if your child is no longer pitching or throwing.
- Rehabilitation. An individualized physical therapy program may be prescribed to help your child regain elbow range of motion and strength throughout the arm, shoulder, and core.
- Return to play. When rest and therapy have restored strength and range of motion to the elbow, we suggest a gradual return to the game. The number and intensity of the pitches or throws should be monitored to ease your child safely back into the sport.
With early diagnosis, most cases of Little Leaguer’s elbow heal with conservative treatment, though the timeline for recovery varies for each child. If this overuse injury is not diagnosed until it is in an advanced stage, surgery may be necessary to remove loose bone fragments, graft bone, or reattach a torn ligament. In the most serious cases, Little Leaguer’s elbow can cause a long-term deformity or disability.
Ask the Expert: Arthritis Video Series
Meet the Expert: Doctor Bio Video Series
Dr. Hansen explains why arthritis fellowship training is linked to better patient care and better outcomes.