Right now, I’ve got one of my star pitchers on the DL because he’s got Little League Elbow. For four weeks, he is not allowed to do any over-hand throwing, so he isn’t even playing on the field right now. He is allowed to bat, and that’s it. (Treatment plans vary by the individual.)
What is Little League Elbow and how does it happen? Little League Elbow is a repetitive throwing injury to the growth plate of the bone at the elbow. It can happen to any player whose bones are still growing who does a lot of throwing, especially pitchers, catchers, shortstops, and outfielders. Usually this condition effects players ages 8-15, although it just depends on how long the bones keep growing.
If a player notices a pain or soreness in the elbow joint, it’s a good idea to get it checked out.
This is a different injury from the one that leads to Tommy John surgery. However, Little League Elbow can also lead to permanent damage, so it is important to prevent and/or treat this injury.
Repetitive throwing and hard throws–such as fastballs, pick-off throws, and long throws from the outfield–are stressful on the growth plate. According to our Team Physical Therapist, the arm motion for a standard curve ball would put even more stress on the growth plate. (Yes, our team has a Physical Therapist, in a manner of speaking. She’s actually the mom of one of our players.)
To prevent Little League Elbow, it is wise to teach good pitching mechanics, avoid the standard curve ball, and maintain reasonable pitch counts. However, if a player is throwing while their arm is fatigued, they are at increased risk of injury even if their pitch count is low, or even if they are not playing the pitcher position. It’s also wise for a player to avoid pitching for more than one team. Doubling up makes it difficult for a coach to monitor the player’s pitches to prevent over-use.
Here are the pitch counts that the MLB believes are reasonable for various ages.
In addition, it’s often recommended for young players to take at least one season off from baseball, rather than playing year-round. I encourage my players to do other sports in the off season, such as basketball or football.
Please be aware that players sometimes minimize soreness because they want to play. They often don’t want to admit their elbow is very sore because then they may be taken out of the game.
So, for the sake of your team and your players’ long-term health, I suggest taking good care of your players’ arms!