Elbow injuries in young baseball players are an increasingly common problem seen by orthopedic surgeons because the act of throwing creates substantial stress on the elbow.
The elbow is protected by a combination of ligaments and muscle that help to dissipate this stress. Repetitive throwing, however, can cause significant injuries including ligament tears, cartilage loss, bone spurs, and even fractures. These injuries, whether treated conservatively or with surgery, lead to a significant amount of time spent on the sidelines.
Coaches and parents must understand how to reduce the frequency of these injuries. Prevention starts with limiting the amount of throwing and allowing for proper rest.
To reduce injuries, the Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons recommends the following:
- Players should not throw for three consecutive months during the year.
- Player should not compete on more than one team during the same season.
- Players and coaches should follow pitch counts to prevent stress on the elbow (see chart)
- Players should not throw breaking balls until age 14.
- Resist the urge to play the same player as pitcher and catcher during the season as this can create stress on his/her elbows.
Despite appropriate limits and rest, injuries can still occur. Pain, stiffness, decreased velocity, and decreased accuracy are all potential indicators of a developing elbow injury.
Players should not throw through pain. Initial treatment should consist of rest, ice, and anti-inflammatory medication.
If the symptoms do not resolve within seven days, consultation with an orthopedic specialist is recommended.