As baseball tournament season arrives, it's crucial to address one of the common injuries seen in clinics: Little Leaguer's elbow. This overuse injury primarily affects the medial side of the elbow, posing greater concerns for skeletally immature athletes due to the presence of growth plates. Disruption of these growth plates can lead to long-term effects, potentially requiring extended recovery periods or even surgery.
Contrary to anecdotal beliefs, research indicates that different pitch types do not significantly impact the risk of Little Leaguer's elbow. Rather, the primary contributing factors are the pitch count, number of pitches thrown in a single outing, time between outings, and pitching mechanics. The quantity of pitches thrown is more influential than the specific types of pitches used.
Effective load management strategies are vital in preventing this injury. Pitch counts play a crucial role, with studies showing that exceeding 600 pitches in a season more than doubles the injury rate. Most recommended pitch counts fall within the range of 500-600 pitches per season. Additional load management techniques include avoiding participation in multiple teams, having dedicated off-season periods without throwing, and assuming non-throwing-intensive positions on days when not pitching (e.g., playing catcher or first base).
Addressing body mechanics is another essential aspect of prevention. While upper extremity mechanics are commonly assessed in throwing athletes, lower extremity mechanics are often overlooked. Evaluating how the lower extremities contribute to upper extremity function is crucial. When athletes seek clinical assessment, a comprehensive evaluation is performed, encompassing the ankle, up to the shoulder complex, and even neck range of motion. Distinguishing between proper body mechanics and athletic mechanics is essential, as they can significantly differ.
By understanding the causes and preventive measures for Little Leaguer's elbow, athletes, coaches, and parents can take proactive steps to minimize the risk of this overuse injury, allowing young baseball players to enjoy the game safely and sustainably.
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