Most people have heard of professional baseball players sustaining elbow and shoulder injuries caused by repetitive throwing. But, many people don’t realize that young children can be susceptible to throwing injuries as well, including an overuse injury called Little League elbow.

Brad Bernardini, an orthopedic surgeon at Virtua Sports Medicine, has a little insight for parents:

What is Little League elbow?

Little League elbow, or medial epicondyle apophysitis, is an injury that causes irritation and inflammation of the growth plate on the inside of the elbow. If left untreated, this inflammation can progress to a full fracture of the growth plate. It's most common among baseball pitchers who are between ages 11 to 13, but it also can affect other high-demand throwing positions such as catcher, outfield or shortstop.

What causes Little League elbow?

Throwing places a great deal of stress on the elbow, especially when the arm is cocked. Studies show that there’s a link between Little League elbow, pitch counts, and the number of games pitched. As the number of pitches increases and muscles begin to fatigue, the pitcher’s form begins to break down. Poor form causes increased stress on the bone.

Little League-age children have a growth plate on the inside of the elbow that’s not fully hardened, or calcified. As the arm comes forward in the throwing motion, children are especially prone to injuries to this growth plate because it’s the weakest link in the bone. Little League elbow often begins gradually with aching, sharp pain or swelling on the inside of the elbow.

Getty Images
Getty Images

How can you prevent Little League elbow?

Raising awareness of Little League elbow is critical to prevention. If children experience pain on the inside of their elbow, they should immediately bring it to the attention of a coach or parent and should be removed from the game. The child should be examined by a sports medicine or pediatric orthopedic specialist as soon as possible.

Coaches should follow age-appropriate pitching guidelines. Children ages 11-12 should be throwing no more than 65 pitches per game and pitching no more than 2 games per week.

Children also should avoid overspecialization in one sport by taking at least 2 to 3 consecutive months off from throwing sports each year. Because studies show that single-sport athletes break down faster, it’s a good idea to try other sports during the off-season.

The specialists at Virtua Sports Medicine offer a range of treatments to get your ballplayer back in the game. And remember, this spring as your family might become more active or spend more time outside, Virtua Urgent Care has eight convenient locations and is great for handling:

  • Cold/flu
  • Stomach virus
  • Sore throat or strep
  • Pink eye or earache
  • Urinary tract infection (UTI)
  • Minor burns and bug bites
  • Minor injuries like sprains, strains and fractures

X-rays are available on-site, and you can walk-in or reserve a spot. Click here to learn more.