As children grow, they have growth plates within their bones made of cartilage. These allow the bones to get longer and often help children grow in height. These growth plates open and close at various points starting in childhood and extending through the early 20’s. Growth plates are often the weak point of the bone in children and have a tendency to get injured.
What is Little League Elbow?
Little League Elbow is pain over the inside of the elbow that happens in children involved in sports that involve throwing or other overhead activities (usually baseball or softball). There is a growth plate in this area that can become inflamed and cause pain with excessive throwing activity. Damage to the growth plate can occur if a child continues to throw even though he or she is in pain. Your child may have difficulty completely straightening the elbow and complain of pain any time they go on the field and throw.
What will my doctor do?
Your doctor may get x-rays to make sure that the growth plate has not been broken or damaged. Occasionally they will get x-rays of both elbows to get a better look at the growth plates.
How is Little League Elbow treated?
- Rest from throwing activity until pain free
- Ice and non-steroidal anti-inflammatories
- Physical therapy
- Observation of throwing technique to work on form
- Slow return to throwing after pain has improved
Can Little League Elbow be prevented?
USA Baseball has developed guidelines for the number of pitches a child should throw based upon their age. Following these guidelines can help prevent a player from throwing too much and lower the risk of injury to the elbow. Allowing a child time off from throwing sports throughout the year can also help prevent this condition.
What other diagnoses are considered with Little League Elbow?
While the term Little League elbow refers to the growth plates, other injuries sometimes get ‘lumped’ under this same term. One is a partial or complete tear of the ulnar collateral ligament on the inside of the elbow. Traditionally, this only happens with older adolescents and adults but has been reported in younger patients. And second, osteochondritis dissecans of the capitellum (on the outside) of the elbow can be included under the term Little League Elbow.
To request an appointment with a physician at St. Louis Children's Hospital, call 314.454.5437 or 800.678.5437 or email us. For additional resources about overuse injuries, contact our Center for Families Resource Library.