Little Leaguer Lament


Junior baseball players have major elbow problems


Like their major league heroes, Little League pitchers want to throw hard and win. Sometimes, though, they can end up the big losers.

Little Leaguer’s elbow is the most common injury in young ball players. It’s caused by the repetitive motion of forcefully extending the arm to throw the ball.

The elbow joint is made up of three bones—the ulna, radius and humerus. Each bone ends in a growth plate that doesn’t close until the youngsters have finished growing, generally around age 17. Repetitive throwing can stress the plates, leading to pain, changes in the joint and instability in the elbow.

Pitching generates a tremendous force that can tear tendons (tissues connecting muscle to bone) and ligaments (tissues connecting bone to bone). More commonly, the tension of throwing a ball causes the growth plates to swell and leads to stress fractures on the growth plate. But the tissues covering the ends of the bone are also vulnerable. They can cause pain on the outside of the joint as well as nerve damage.

n Prevention: The first step in treating Little Leaguer’s elbow is to prevent it. Kids should warm up thoroughly, learn proper throwing techniques and do strength exercises regularly. Junior pitchers should be limited to no more than 100 pitches per game or in practice. They should pitch only a couple of innings per game and no more than six innings per week with mandatory rest days between pitching assignments. Above all, players should stop pitching at the first sign of pain.

n Symptoms: The most common sign of Little Leaguer’s elbow is pain and/or swelling on the inside of the elbow joint a few days after repeated throwing. Elbow motion may be limited, or the young patient might feel as though their elbow locks. The discomfort may subside after resting for a few days but may return during the next pitching session.

n Treatment: Place an ice pack on the inside of the joint to help reduce swelling. Avoid pitching or throwing a ball for a few days to rest the elbow joint. Over-the-counter medications can help control the pain in the elbow region. Ask your doctor or pharmacist for a recommendation. Also, rehabilitating the joint to strengthen the weak muscles and stretch the tight ones will reduce future injuries.

-- Rizwana Ashfaq, chiropractor, Elk Grove Village

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