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Little league elbow is a disorder that affects children, primarily those involved in activities in which the elbow is overused. Also called medial epicondylar apophysis, little league elbow is often seen in children under the age of 14 who play baseball, softball, football, volleyball, lacrosse, and water polo. This preventable disorder is caused when repetitious movements put undue stress and pressure on the growth plate at the elbow, causing inflammation and pain.
The primary cause of this condition is repetitive movements of the arm at the elbow. This is most often the result of activities such as throwing or pitching a ball. Specifically, the vast number of cases that are treated occur in children who do not limit the number of times they throw the ball or who throw sliders or curve balls, placing additional stress on the growth plate.
Interestingly, as children mature, the likelihood that they will be affected by little league elbow decreases. This is because the growth plates of the elbows close as the child ages. By the time the child is in high school, her plates have nearly closed together, making the disorder rare at this age.
Most children are diagnosed with little league elbow through a description of their symptoms and physical examinations, as it is not uncommon for the disorder to be undetectable through an x-ray. In general, children will have pain, sensitivity, or tenderness in the inside of their elbows. The discomfort may be particularly evident when they are engaged in activities in which they are using their elbows, such as baseball. A child may have trouble moving her arm so that it fully opens or closes at the elbow as well. In addition, children may experience pain when they hold or lift heavy items.
Refraining from the activity that caused the condition is the primary treatment for the disorder. In general, children are recommended to ice the elbow for two to three days, followed by using a heating pad for two to three days. In some cases, a doctor may recommend physical therapy. Exercises, such as wrist extensions and wall push-ups, may be advised as well. If the injury is severe, surgery may be necessary, particularly if the growth plate was fractured or broken from overuse.
There are ways to prevent little league elbow. For example, children who participate in activities that can lead to the disorder should be encouraged to warm-up and stretch. In addition, they should be limited in how many balls they throw and how long they play each week. Also, good form is essential to avoiding injury. In most cases, a child should not pitch or throw a slider or a curve ball until her growth plates have closed.