Elbow Injuries In Youth Sports Video
Throwing injuries in young children and teenagers are common in both the elbow and the shoulder. In the elbow, there’s a difference in injuries to young children with open growth plates versus high school and college players. In young children, an overuse tendonitis is the most common injury, and it results from children repetitively throwing hard. Children sometimes grow stronger and heavier faster than their bones grow harder, so the repetitive traction can cause injury.
The most important thing is to recognize it. If a child has a sore elbow, they need to stop throwing. It’s important to be aware of the number of pitches a small child has thrown in Little League baseball or repetitive throwing in practice. The first nine or ten things you do with children is rest them. If the pain does not improve with the rest, X-rays and advanced imaging can sometimes show a widening of the growth plate or injury to a joint cartilage.
Older patients have slightly different injury pattern in their elbow. The treatment for high school and college students depends primarily on the exact pathology. The most widely known injury is a tear of the ligament on the inside of the elbow, called the ulnar collateral ligament. The procedure is commonly referred to as the Tommy John operation. Tommy John was a major league baseball player who tore his ligament and had it repaired by Dr. Frank Jobe back in the late 1970s. That operation made it possible with a torn ulnar collateral ligament of the elbow to return to play most of the time.
There’s physical therapy before the operation for most patients, and if they fail a trial of physical therapy and rest, then physical therapy begins the first week after surgery and continues until they are full throwing off the mound. The recovery from Tommy John surgery is quite long: from the time of the surgery to the time a patient returns to throwing is 9-12 months.
It’s largely a decision made on the pathology and the injury. I think the most important thing, especially in high school and college students, is that a trial of conservative treatment is given adequate time.
When children are doing a repetitive action time and time again, that’s an unnatural environment for them. If they start to have aches and pains, those should be taken seriously so they remain only aches and pains and don’t turn into a significant injury.