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Pitcher's Elbow in Young Baseball Players

Pitcher’s elbow is an injury that occurs along the inside of the elbow, often seen in young baseball players. While players (typically 9 to 14 years old) are developing, the repetitive and forceful nature of overhead throwing can result in this condition. When a young player places excess stress on the elbow, inflammation occurs at the growth plate where the bones are not fully developed. Safe training and pitching mechanics are important to avoid overtraining that may lead to pitcher’s elbow.

Factors that place a young player at risk for pitcher’s elbow include:

  • Age due to bones, growth plates, and ligaments not being fully developed.
  • Pitching too many games without proper rest or recovery time.
  • Throwing pitches such as curveballs or breaking balls, which place higher stress and increased force to the inside of the elbow, as well as the growth plate in the elbow.
  • Improper throwing mechanics, especially when throwing curveballs or breaking balls.

Young pitchers may complain of the following symptoms when experiencing or developing pitcher’s elbow:

  • Gradual worsening of inside elbow pain or prolonged soreness after throwing.
  • Swelling and/or tenderness in the elbow.
  • Decreased ability to throw with normal velocity or loss of accuracy.
  • Complaints of muscle cramping.
  • Decreased ability to bend or straighten the elbow.

The diagnosis of pitcher’s elbow often involves a comprehensive evaluation of the elbow and shoulder by a physician or physical therapist. Once a full evaluation is complete, the physician or physical therapist can begin to develop an individualized plan for the player’s return to full activity. It is also important to establish techniques for prevention of future injury.

Prevention techniques may include:

  • Thorough education to coaches and young baseball players on the risk of playing through symptoms of elbow pain.
  • Development of individualized stretching and strengthening programs for the athlete to complete before, during, and after their baseball season.
  • Allowance for sufficient recovery time between games pitched.
  • Monitoring the number of total innings pitched and total number of pitches thrown.
  • Limited use of curve balls and breaking balls.

If you feel you or your child’s condition is becoming more severe or has been present for more than a month, you or your child may benefit from physical therapy. Contact a ProCare Physical Therapy near you.

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