Elbow Injuries Among Young Baseball Players

Now that summer is in full swing, you’ll find most children playing outside and enjoying the sun. Unfortunately, some popular summer sports can also cause injuries if you and your kid are not being careful.

Some of these injuries frequently happen in the baseball field. According to Johns Hopkins, more than 100,000 children from ages 5 to 14 were treated in hospital emergency rooms for baseball-related injuries. The sport also has the highest fatality rate among children aged 5 to 14, with three to four dying from a baseball injury each year.

Pitching Fatigue

Little pitchers who throw too many pitches are prone to injuries more than any other baseball players. Here are two of the most common elbow injuries that happen to young players:

UCL Tear

The ulnar collateral ligament connects the humerus (arm) to the ulna (forearm). The ligament may tear up due to the repeated stress that comes from throwing away too many pitches.

The UCL injury may require a “Tommy John” surgery, named after a Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher who was the first to undergo a UCL reconstruction procedure.

Little League Elbow

While the UCL tear is an injury to the ligament, the little league elbow is an injury to the growth plate. This injury is also caused by repetitive throwing motions. During a throwing motion, a lot of pressure is placed on the inner elbow. The growth plates, which haven’t fully developed yet, become overused and are more prone to injury.

Many sports injuries can be prevented by using proper form, wearing protective equipment, and watching out for early signs of muscle fatigue or pain. If your little pitcher experiences inner elbow pain, have him or her stop playing immediately. If the RICE method (Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation) does not improve the elbow’s condition, then visit a San Diego pediatric orthopedic doctor for a more comprehensive treatment plan.

Dealing with Little League Elbow Syndrome

In recent years, there has been an increase in the number of organized sports for children, resulting to an increase in sports-related pediatric injuries. Other factors that contribute to the increased number of injuries include single-sport specialization and longer competitive seasons.

One of these injuries is called Little League elbow syndrome, a type of medial elbow injury caused by repetitive throwing motions when playing baseball. This injury is also associated with other sports that involve plenty of throwing.

When making a throwing motion, a lot of stress is placed on the elbow’s growth plate located on the inside of the elbow. This repeated motion results in an overuse injury that frequently happens to little pitchers, catchers, infielders, and outfielders. The medical term for Little League elbow is medial epicondylar apophysis.

Why Children and Adolescents Get Little League Elbow

The growth plates in the elbows of children and adolescents who frequently play the sport have not yet reached full skeletal maturity. Excessive and repeated stress on the growth plates will cause them to crack or tear from the humerus bone. This can negatively impact bone growth, and even cause deformity in the elbow.

Watch Out for the Symptoms

Little League elbow typically happens to an adolescent baseball pitcher aged 9 to 14. Injured baseball players often complain of pains on the insides of their elbow. They also complain of being unable to move their elbow because it feels like it gets stuck or is locked.

A San Diego pediatric orthodontist will be able to diagnose if your kid has Little League elbow or not. Aside from a physical exam, an x-ray or an MRI scan can be conducted to determine the extent of the injury.

To prevent the occurrence of this elbow injury, the USA Baseball Medical and Safety Advisory Committee recommends that pitch count limits should be strictly monitored and regulated, and that pitchers should play no more than nine months to give the body enough time to heal and recover.

What to Do with a ‘Nursemaid’s Elbow’

When walking with children, our tendency is to grab their small hands or wrists, and swing their arms back and forth. But did you know that this sweeping motion can be too dangerous if we put on a lot of pressure?

This can cause an injury called a “nursemaid’s elbow,” a condition in which a ligament has slipped out of place and is caught between the bones of the elbow joint. With nursemaid’s elbow, even a small amount of pressure is enough to cause an injury.

This condition happens to children between 1 to 4 years old. It is more prevalent to girls than boys, and frequently happens more to the left arm than the right.  At this early stage, children’s ligaments are still loose, fragile, and yet to develop, which makes their elbows easy to fall out of place. Instances such as pulling a child up by the hands, jerking an arm too forcefully, or swinging a child’s arms can lead to injury.

Signs and Symptoms of Nursemaid’s Elbow

A nursemaid’s elbow injury is not so obvious because there are no signs of bruising or swelling from the outside. But you can tell your child has one if he or she does not use an arm and keeps it in a straight position.

Although it can be painful, a nursemaid’s elbow is a temporary condition without permanent damage to a child’s body. Severe pain means there could be a broken bone involved, in which case a San Diego pediatric orthodontist will need to be consulted. A doctor will prescribe a pain reliever and will do a “reduction” maneuver to put the elbow back into place. An x-ray only becomes necessary if the doctor suspects fracture.

To prevent a nursemaid’s elbow injury in the future, you should be more gentle and careful with your child, and advice other caregivers to do the same.