Little Leaguer’s Elbow or Little Leaguer’s Shoulder
Your child has been diagnosed with Little Leaguer’s elbow or shoulder. Little Leaguer’s elbow or shoulder is caused by overuse of the arm. This condition is an irritation of the growth plates in the elbow or shoulder. A growth plate is the soft part of a bone that lets the bone grow as the child grows. Little Leaguer’s elbow or shoulder is most common among children who play sports, especially baseball. Because a child is still growing and developing, the demands of a sport on the child’s body can be too much. This is especially true if the child isn’t given enough rest time between active sessions. Little Leaguer’s elbow or shoulder is a painful condition. But it can be treated with proper care.
What Causes Little Leaguer’s Elbow or Shoulder?
Little Leaguer’s elbow or shoulder is caused by too much overhead throwing such as pitching a baseball. Overhead movement causes the muscles in the arm to pull on the growth plates. Overhead throwing motion will cause twisting of the shoulder and pulling apart of the bones on the inside of the elbow. When this movement is repeated over and over, the space in the growth plates begins to widen. In some cases, the growth plates pull away from the bone.
What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Little Leaguer’s Elbow or Shoulder?
- Pain or “heaviness” in the arm while throwing
- Elbow or shoulder pain, especially after throwing
- Tightness of the elbow or shoulder, causing decreased range of motion (inability to fully extend the elbow or rotate the shoulder)
How Is Little Leaguer’s Elbow or Shoulder Diagnosed?
The doctor will ask about your child’s health history and examine your child. He or she will check your child’s elbow or shoulder for tenderness and pain. An X-ray or MRI may also be done. These tests take images of the inside of the body. They help the doctor diagnose the injury.
How Is Little Leaguer’s Treated?
The doctor will talk with you about the best treatment plan for your child. As instructed, your child will:
- Rest from pitching or throwing for about six weeks.
- Ice the elbow or shoulder three to four times a day for 15 to 20 minutes at a time. Use an ice pack or bag of frozen peas—or something similar—wrapped in a thin towel.
- Take anti-inflammatory medication, such as ibuprofen, as directed.
- Learn or practice throwing techniques that are less likely to cause injury.
- Decrease the amount of activity done with the elbow or shoulder. For example, if your child is a pitcher, the doctor may limit the number of pitches your child should throw.
- Do exercises at home as instructed by the doctor. Your child may be referred to a physical therapist (PT) for a supervised program of exercises to improve rotator cuff strength, shoulder flexibility and shoulder blade function. Your child’s physical therapist or health care provider may also ask your child to do exercises at home.
What Are the Long-Term Concerns?
If your child’s condition isn’t cared for, he or she may have trouble using the elbow or shoulder in the future. Left untreated, Little Leaguer’s can lead to permanent damage of the growth plates.
Preventing Little Leaguer’s Elbow and Shoulder
Little Leaguer’s has become more common as children’s sports have become more competitive. But this painful condition can be prevented. To help prevent it:
- Don’t allow your child to throw every day. Be sure he or she gets days off from throwing.
- Discuss your child’s training and game schedule with his or her coach and health care provider. Pitches or throws should be counted to ensure that your child is not throwing too many times in any game or practice. Talk to the coach about pitch count limits, and make sure your child is not exceeding this limit.
- Never let your child play or practice if he or she is hurt.
- Limit your child’s throwing activities to no more than nine months out of the year. For at least three months each year, the child should not play throwing sports (like baseball) and should only do nonthrowing activities. This rest period gives the body time to repair itself.
The Sport Medicine clinic offers comprehensive care and treatment for children and adolescents with acute and chronic injuries. Call 832-22-SPORT (227-7678) for an appointment.