As baseball and softball seasons reach their peaks, doctors often see an increase in young athletes’ elbow problems. The human elbow is a joint made up of three bones (humerus, radius and ulna), and held together by muscles, ligaments and tendons. The combination hinge and pivot joint allows the arm to properly bend and rotate. Several muscles, nerves and tendons cross paths at the elbow.
The most common elbow issue in children is medial apophysitis, also known as “Little Leaguer’s elbow.” With this injury, the athlete will likely feel pain along the bump on the inside of the elbow. “Little Leaguer’s elbow” can become a serious issue if left untreated. The condition occurs when tendons and ligaments are repetitively pulled through excessive throwing. In serious cases, the repeated pulling motions can tear away tiny bone fragments, which can disrupt bone growth.
A less common elbow injury that may occur is osteochondritis dissecans. This condition is also caused by excessive throwing patterns, and involves compression of the elbow and the joint smashing immature bones together. This can loosen the bone and cartilage.
A child should stop throwing if any of the following symptoms appear:
- Elbow pain
- Restricted range of motion
- Locking of the elbow joint
These conditions can be treated both non-surgically and surgically, although the latter of the two is not nearly as common.
- Continuing to throw will only further aggravate the elbow.
- Cold compresses will help eliminate swelling.
- Alter the child’s throwing technique. If pain persists or gets worse, stop the activity entirely until the child is treated by a physician.
Depending on the severity of the injury, surgery may be necessary to remove loose bone fragments or reattach a ligament onto a bone.
If your child has an elbow injury, please contact Campbell Clinic to meet with a physician. For more information about Campbell Clinic, please visit our website.
This blog post was adapted from AAOS.