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Little league elbow is an injury to the growth plate on the inside of the elbow caused by:
Little league elbow is an overuse injury caused by too much throwing using improper mechanics. Because the growth plate is not solid bone, it can widen, become swollen and cause pain. The most common ways for this to happen include:
The risk of developing little league elbow increases when an athlete:
Since little league elbow is a bone-related injury, rest is needed to allow the injury to heal. After the bone injury is healed, the athlete works on strengthening the shoulder and back muscles. This will help increase the shoulder’s ability to withstand the strain placed through the arm during the throwing motion.
Throwing and pitching are total body activities, and weakness in one area will increase the stress through others. An athlete will need to work on strengthening core muscles, as well as the legs and hips. Video analysis of the athlete throwing may help find any mechanical faults that increase the stress in the elbow or shoulder.
A return-to-throwing program is developed once the athlete is cleared to return to throwing. This allows the athlete to slowly increase the forces and demands through the arm that are necessary for return to full competitive play.
Little league elbow has a low risk of permanent injury. There is a small chance of early growth plate closure or a fracture of the growth plate requiring casting or surgery. Little league elbow will often heal completely with rest, and the athlete will not lose any functional ability.
The athlete can usually return to full play following 6-8 weeks of rest. During that rest period, it is important to look at issues that may cause future problems:
While no injury can be completely prevented, proper mechanics, rest and strengthening can reduce the risks of injury. USA Baseball has developed guidelines for young players to help reduce the risk of injury.
Recommended pitch counts by age and associated rest periods:
Age of Athlete
Pitch Limits per Day
Number of Pitches Thrown
Days of Rest
(Courtesy of Little League Baseball)
Parents need to also be aware of any reports of pain, fatigue or changes in throwing motions as these are often warning signs that if ignored may lead to more serious injury.
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