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What Is Little Leaguer’s Elbow?

Your elbow is a complex joint, with three bones coming together, numerous ligaments and tendons, and the ability to hinge, but also to rotate. In children who are still growing, it’s even more complex because the bones of the elbow are softer than the supporting structures around it. 

At Downtown Pain Management, Dr. Ron Ben-Meir loves to hear that kids are playing sports and learning healthy habits. But he and his team know that injuries happen, and are there to help your child recover. If your child is complaining of elbow pain, it could be a little leaguer’s elbow. 

The structure of your elbow

There are three bones connected at your elbow. Your upper arm bone, or humerus, and the two bones of your forearm, the radius, and the ulna. Ligaments and tendons hold the joint together. 

Your arm hinges; think of bending your arm so that your fist is in front of your shoulder. It also pivots, allowing you to twist your forearm from side to side. 

In adults, the most likely injury to the elbow is to the tendons and ligaments that hold everything together. In children, the bones are still growing, and so they are softer. The most likely injury is pulling the ligaments out of the bone, which causes damage to the bone. 

Throwing creates stress

One of the reasons the injury is called little leaguer’s elbow is that it usually happens in young athletes who throw a ball often. When you throw something, it creates an especially strong pull on the tendons and ligaments in your elbow. 

The medical name for little leaguer’s elbow is medial epicondylitis or medial apophysitis. The bump on the inside of your elbow is the medial epicondyle or medial apophysis. An apophyse is a growth plate or area of soft bone. 

Repeated throwing creates stress on that soft bone in your child’s elbow, and can damage it. Kids who love their sport may minimize their symptoms in order to keep playing. 

Symptoms to watch for

Little leaguer’s elbow hurts, but your child may not tell you how badly if they are afraid they might not get to keep playing. The condition isn’t usually preceded by a specific injury, but develops over time. 

There may also be an audible popping sound when they throw. The inside area of the elbow may swell, also. The range of motion may be limited, and the elbow may lock sometimes. 

Early on, symptoms may only be present when your child throws a ball hard, like a fastball, but as it gets worse, symptoms may occur anytime they throw anything. Without treatment, your child may develop fractures, bone spurs, bone chips, or early arthritis. 

Risk factors

Playing a sport that involves throwing, such as baseball or softball raises your child’s risk of developing a little leaguer’s elbow, particularly if they are the pitcher or in another position that requires lots of throwing. 

Most often young athletes between the ages of 8 and 15 are affected, but kids as old as 17 can develop it, if their growth plate hasn’t fused. There’s a link between the number of throws and the development of the little leaguer’s elbow. It’s important to follow league rules and to track throws outside of games and practices, as well. 

Treatment 

Usually, the first step is complete rest from throwing. Ice may also be helpful to reduce inflammation and swelling. 

Physical therapy is often the next step in treatment as the elbow begins to heal. Your child needs clearance from their doctor before returning to play of any kind. 

In some rarer cases, Dr. Ben-Meir may recommend surgery, particularly if there are bone chips or loose fragments in your child’s elbow. 

If your child is complaining of elbow pain and is an athlete, schedule an appointment at Downtown Pain Management. Dr. Ben-Meir can help you understand the reason for the pain, as well as suggest an effective treatment plan. 

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