Baseball season brings opportunity for family entertainment and physical fitness. In fact, statistics reflect nearly 4.8 million children pursue the dream of playing in baseball Little League programs across the country. Unfortunately, for many Little League Baseball players and coaches, the prevention and treatment of elbow pain remains at the forefront of every practice and game. With symptoms usually sudden, sharp and striking with excruciating force, the pain is usually localized at the medical aspect of the arm. Understanding the cause and origin of Little League Elbow syndrome, steps for prevention and the various treatment options will ensure both parents, players and coaches many years of continued baseball game participation.
Little League Elbow syndrome is common in young baseball players prior to reaching puberty. Most commonly seen in baseball pitchers, the Little League Elbow syndrome can afflict any athlete involved in a repetitive throwing activity. The cause of Little League Elbow syndrome is debated but believed to be the result of the shifting of a growth plate, away from the bone, attributed to a ligament pull to the inner or medial side of the elbow. The condition is most common in males between 10 and 15 years of age and will usually present in the dominant hand of the Little League Baseball athlete.
To prevent Little League Elbow syndrome, reducing the repetitive throwing motion is the first line of defense. However, in the game of baseball, pitching can be the difference between winning and losing a game. With this in mind, many Little League Baseball coaches find they struggle with the decision of removing a player from the mound in an effort to avoid development of the Little League Elbow syndrome versus overexerting the athlete for the intent of winning a game. When presented with this decisions, the Little League Baseball coach should always err on the side of caution and remove the player as soon as the onset of pain is present.
As a second line of defense, it is recommended the Little League Baseball pitcher avoid throwing more complicated pitches such as curves and sliders, avoid elevated mounds and change the pitch so as to avoid hard pitching continuously throughout the game. The Little League Baseball pitcher should always warm up before pitching by performing a series of stretches and even jog prior to the game. Additionally, many Little League Baseball programs limit the number of innings and games a Little League Baseall pitcher may participate in so as to avoid coaching decisions which may impact the health of the athlete.
Diagnosing Little League Elbow syndrome is uncomplicated from a medical aspect as it only involves obtaining a medical and physical activity history from the athlete and can usually be performed by your family practitioner. Xrays may be done to view the growth plates for damage. In most cases, resting the elbow, applying ice packs four times a day for 20 minutes and taking ibuprofen will lead to a quick and speedy recovery. Once the symptoms are resolved, the return to Little League Baseball pitching should be a slow and progressive process so as to prevent re-injury. In very rare cases, consultation with a sports medicine professional or an orthopedic may be required as well as physical therapy or even surgery to re-attach the ligament to the growth plate.
Baseball, as with other sports, requires attention to physical fitness. Compliance with stretching and coaching programs will ensure the Little League Baseball athlete not only enjoys the game of baseball but is successful and injury free. When facing the decision between pitching and pain, the Little League Baseball athlete, coach and parents should always defer to caution and avoid over use of the pitching arm. With rest, ice and ibuprofen, the Little League Baseball athlete will be well on his or her way back to the pitching mound within a few days.