What is Little Leaguer’s elbow?
Medial apophysitis, or Little Leaguer’s elbow, is one of the common baseball-related injuries affecting children. Youngsters who pitch are the most likely to be affected, but we also treat this injury in adolescent catchers, infielders, and outfielders.
What causes Little Leaguer’s elbow?
Little Leaguer’s elbow is caused by repetitive throwing stress on the inside of the elbow, which overtaxes the joint. Younger players are particularly vulnerable because their growth plates at the ends of the bones in the elbow joint are still developing. This makes the bones weaker and more easily injured than the ligaments and muscles attached to them. As an athlete matures and the growth plates fuse, the injury risk remains, but the ligaments and tendons are more likely to be damaged.
What are the symptoms of Little Leaguer’s elbow?
Symptoms of Little Leaguer’s elbow include:
- Pain or swelling at the bump on the inside of the elbow
- Restricted range of motion
- Locking of the elbow joint
- A painful popping sensation when the elbow is used
If Little Leaguer’s elbow is not treated, it can worsen until any throwing motion causes pain. Repeated throwing can tear ligaments and tendons from the bone, sometimes fracturing bones, pulling away bone fragments, or causing early arthritis.
How is Little Leaguer’s elbow diagnosed?
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 X-rays are normal, but the patient’s history and exam are still concerning for Little Leaguer’s elbow, an MRI of the elbow may help to show the injury to the growing bone.
How is Little Leaguer’s elbow treated?
When this injury is addressed early, before serious damage has been done, it can usually be treated without surgery. Nonsurgical treatment includes:
It is important to stop throwing until the damage has healed.
Ice packs may be used to treat swelling or relieve pain.
Oral anti-inflammatory medicines (like ibuprofen) are an option to control pain at first. However, they are not usually necessary if your child is no longer pitching or throwing.
Your child’s specialist may prescribe an individualized physical therapy program 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.
Summit Orthopedics provides personalized hand and wrist expertise
The function of our hands is integrated through our wrists and arms to our shoulders; a problem anywhere along our arm may have a significant impact on hand function and quality of life. If you experience an injury or uncomfortable symptoms, our fellowship-trained hand and wrist surgeons are here to help. Summit physicians receive the highest levels of training and exclusively provide individualized care for conditions of the hand, wrist, and elbow.
Start your journey to better function and less pain. Find your hand expert, request an appointment online, or call us at (651) 968-5201 to schedule a consultation.
Summit has convenient locations across the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area, serving Minnesota and western Wisconsin. We have state-of-the-art centers for comprehensive orthopedic care in Eagan, MN, Plymouth, MN, Vadnais Heights, MN, and Woodbury, MN, as well as additional community clinics throughout the metro and southern Minnesota.
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