How to Avoid Elbow Injuries
There is good news, though: Little League elbow is largely preventable, if kids follow these tips:
- Throw Less
A broad recommendation is that pitchers base their number of pitches each week by multiplying their age by 10, so an 8-year-old would limit his pitches to 80 per week. A 12-year-old would throw no more than 120.
The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons AOS recommends limiting the number of pitches per game to 60 to 100, with no more than 30 to 40 in a single practice session, adding that innings pitched should be limited to about four per week, with a minimum of three days rest between starts.
In between the games the player pitches, he should continue to watch how much and how strenuously he throws. One common problem, Congeni said, is that pitchers, because of their strong arms, also play third base, shortstop and outfield, position in which throws can put added strain on the arm. Consider playing first or second base between starts.
- Warm Up
Coaches should educate players to the importance of and techniques for stretching and strengthening the arms and shoulders, the AAOS says. Always take time to warm up and stretch.
Research studies have shown that cold muscles are more prone to injury.
The AAOS suggests warming up with jumping jacks, stationary cycling, running or walking in place for three to five minutes, followed by slow, gentle stretching, holding each stretch for 30 seconds.
- Throw Correctly
Poor throwing motions put too much stress on the elbow. Discourage sidearm throwing because it is three times more likely to cause injury, according to the AAOS.
- Master the Basics
Between the ages of 8 and 14, Congeni suggests working on three phases -- gaining control, increasing velocity and developing a command of the strike zone, throwing only fast balls.
"If you can do that, that's excellent," Congeni said. "If you can do that, you've done a lot for a young pitcher."
Pitchers can begin throwing change-ups at 10, but no breaking pitches (curves, sliders, etc.) until at least 14.
- Recognize Injuries When They Occur
Any persistent pain, loss of motion (especially extension) or X-ray abnormalities should keep a player on the sidelines until the symptoms disappear or a doctor clears the players.
Little League elbow is known medically as medial apophysitis, because it's always on the inner side, or medial side, of the elbow. So, not all elbow pain is Little League elbow. Be sure to consult a medical professional before starting any treatment plan.