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When Your Child Has Little Leaguer’s Elbow or Little Leaguer’s Shoulder

Outline of arm showing upper arm bone. Growth plates are at top of bone near shoulder, and at both sides of bottom of bone near elbow.

Your child has been diagnosed with Little Leaguer’s elbow or shoulder. Little Leaguer’s is caused by overuse of the arm. This condition is an irritation of the growth plates in the elbow or shoulder. A growth plate is the soft part of a bone that lets the bone grow as the child grows. Little Leaguer’s is most common among children who play sports, especially baseball. Because a child is still growing and developing, the demands of a sport on the child’s body can be too much. This is especially true if the child isn’t given enough rest time between active sessions. Little Leaguer’s is a painful condition. But it can be treated with proper care.

What Causes Little Leaguer’s?

Little Leaguer’s is caused by too much overhead movement of the arm such as pitching a baseball. Overhead movement causes the muscles in the arm to pull on the growth plates. When this movement is repeated over and over, the space in the growth plates begins to widen. In some cases, the growth plates pull away from the bone.

What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Little Leaguer’s?

  • Pain or “heaviness” in the arm while throwing

  • Elbow or shoulder pain, especially after throwing

  • Tightness of the elbow or shoulder, causing decreased range of motion (inability to fully extend the elbow or rotate the shoulder)

How Is Little Leaguer’s Diagnosed?

The doctor will ask about your child’s health history and examine your child. He or she will check your child’s elbow or shoulder for tenderness and pain. An x-ray or MRI may also be done. These tests take images of the inside of the body. They help the doctor diagnose the injury.

How Is Little Leaguer’s Treated?

The doctor will talk with you about the best treatment plan for your child. As instructed, your child will:

  • Rest from pitching or throwing for about 6 weeks.

  • Ice the elbow or shoulder 3-4 times a day for 15-20 minutes at a time. Use an ice pack or bag of frozen peas—or something similar—wrapped in a thin towel.

  • Take anti-inflammatory medication, such as ibuprofen, as directed.

  • Learn or practice throwing techniques that are less likely to cause injury.

  • Decrease the amount of activity done with the elbow or shoulder. For example, if your child is a pitcher, the doctor may limit the number of pitches your child should throw.

  • Do exercises at home as instructed by the doctor. Your child may also be referred to a physical therapist (PT) for a supervised program of exercises. Your child’s physical therapist or healthcare provider may also ask your child to do exercises at home.

Healthcare provider examining boy's elbow.
Examining the elbow helps the doctor diagnose Little Leaguer’s.

What Are the Long-Term Concerns?

If your child’s condition isn’t cared for, he or she may have trouble using the elbow or shoulder in the future. Left untreated, Little Leaguer’s can lead to permanent damage of the growth plates.

Preventing Little Leaguer’s Elbow and Shoulder

Little Leaguer’s has become more common as children’s sports have become more competitive. But this painful condition can be prevented. To help prevent it:

  • Don’t allow your child to throw every day. Be sure he or she gets days off from throwing.

  • Discuss your child’s training and game schedule with his or her coach and healthcare provider. Pitches or throws should be counted to ensure your child is not throwing too many times in any game or practice. Talk to the coach about pitch count limits and make sure your child is not exceeding this limit.

  • Never let your child play or practice if he or she is hurt.

  • Limit your child’s throwing activities to no more than nine months out of the year. For at least three months each year, the child should not play throwing sports (like baseball) and should only do non-throwing activities. This rest period gives the body time to repair itself.

Online Medical Reviewer: Bechtold, C Dustin, MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Mitchell, Bryan Sean, MD
Last Review Date: 10/31/2011
© 2000-2014 The StayWell Company, LLC. 780 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.