The ball zings by the batter at speeds up to 80 mph. The crowd cheers, the batter strikes out, and the elbow shrieks in pain. Many throwing athletes know the pain of an elbow injury. Elbow injuries are one of the most common injuries in young baseball players. The spring season is around the corner. It is important for parents, players and coaches to understand elbow injuries and treatment.
As many as five million kids play baseball every year. More than 2 million little leaguers hit the field every season and an estimated 400,000 players play on high school teams. An estimated 20% of young players experience elbow pain and as many as 26% baseball players between the ages of 9 and 12 suffer from elbow pain. As players get older, the risk of elbow injuries in baseball rises as pitching and throwing speeds increase. Pitchers suffer the brunt of elbow injuries because of the repetitive, high-stress, over-hand pitches.
Types of Elbow Injuries in Young Baseball Players
The most common is Little League Elbow, which is caused by overuse. Little League Elbow is the result of an injury to the growth plates in the elbow. Two other injuries in young players are Osteochondritis Dissecans and acute fractures. Osteochondritis Dissecans is the presence of cartilage and bone erosion. This injury is dangerous because it can end a baseball player’s career and cause permanent disability. Acute fractures must be addressed right away as they can lead to a complete loss of function.
Who is at Risk?
Elbow injuries are not limited to baseball players. Throwing athletes suffer elbow injuries. Throwing athletes play tennis, lacrosse, shot put, softball, football, water polo, and javelin. For baseball players, the ones most at-risk for elbow injuries are:
- Pitchers who pitch too many games.
- Pitchers who throw curveballs and breaking pitches often.
- Players with improper pitching and throwing mechanics.
- Younger players whose bodies and bones are still developing.
Symptoms of an Elbow Injuries in Young Baseball Players
It is important that players recognize the pain and vocalize their concerns. Common symptoms of an elbow injury include:
- Pain in the elbow
- Limited range of motion
- Locked-up elbow
- Throbbing and swelling
- In severe cases, a popping or tearing sensation can occur. This requires immediate medical attention.
Treatment for Elbow Injuries in Young Baseball Players
Younger players between the ages of 9 and 14 years are at the greatest risk. Permanent injury or limited is possible. This occurs as they get older if they overuse the elbow and practice improper techniques. As players get older, the growth plates close together. This can lead to tendon and ligament injuries. The good news is that rest and rehabilitation can ease the pains of elbow injuries and prevent further damage. Common treatment options for elbow injuries include:
– Rest and Relaxation
When a player begins to feel elbow pain, it is important to rest the elbow and ice it. Rest and relaxation reduce swelling and inflammation.
– Physical Therapy
Physical therapy does many things for a baseball athlete. Physical therapy can help prevent or reduce injury in the first place. If an injury does occur, physical therapy aids in improving range of motion. Physical therapy also restores use, improves flexibility, and strengthens the elbow. Physical therapy improves performance and aids in quicker recovery after an injury.
In rare, and more severe cases, surgery may be necessary. After a physician looks at X-rays of the elbow, surgery may be recommended. This is a last resort for young players.
Prevention and Attention
Players, doctors, coaches, parents and teammates play a role in ensuring the young player receives the prevention techniques and attention necessary to prevent, address and reduce elbow injuries in young baseball players.
It is important for players to maintain flexibility and strength with targeted programs. Players must also practice proper pitching mechanics and warm-up exercises. Baseball players should have the space and support to vocalize concerns too. Adults and professionals around young baseball players MUST be smart with youth pitchers. Common sense and support will prevent debilitating injuries and exhaustion.