A pitcher’s elbow injury occurs on the inside of the joint and is also known as medial epicondyle apophysitis and Little League elbow. It is a painful repetitive use injury that occurs in both adults and children who regularly engage in overhand throwing. It can usually be managed by conservative treatments but sometimes requires surgery.
What Is Pitcher’s Elbow?
Pitcher’s elbow is a repetitive motion injury that affects the inner elbow. It occurs mostly in people who regularly perform overhead throws, hence the name pitcher’s elbow. While a baseball pitcher’s arm is most often associated with this injury, it can occur in other athletes, like tennis players. It is rare for anyone who does not regularly engage in an overhead throwing motion.
What Are the Symptoms of Pitcher’s Elbow?
Pain is the most common symptom of pitcher’s elbow, which often occurs during and after overhead throwing. Pitcher’s elbow pain is on the inside of the elbow and may run down the arm to the wrist. There may also be some numbness or tingling in the arm. People with this injury often find they cannot throw as fast as previously.
What Causes Pitcher’s Elbow?
Pitcher’s elbow results from the repetitive stress put on the elbow during overhead throws. It is the most common of baseball elbow injuries. The ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) attaches to the humerus bone of the upper arm and the ulna in the lower arm. It runs along the inside, or medial side, of the arm.
The UCL Is largely responsible for stabilizing the joint during overhead throwing motions. This puts a tremendous amount of stress on it. Without adequate rest between pitching, the ligament does not have time to heal and injury results.
Pitcher’s elbow occurs in professional baseball players but can also occur in amateur athletes and young baseball players. The biggest risk factor is the amount of pitching. The greater number of pitches per game, innings per season, and months of pitching per year, the greater the risk of developing the injury.
How Can You Prevent Pitcher’s Elbow?
If you play baseball recreationally or have a young pitcher in the family, it is important to understand how to prevent or reduce the risk of this painful injury. Limiting the number of pitches is one of the best ways to lower the risk. If you have a young pitcher, use the MLB’s Guidelines for Youth and Adolescent Pitchers to ensure they are not overdoing it.
Other preventative measures include strengthening supportive muscles used in pitching, improving shoulder flexibility, and warming up adequately before pitching. It is also a good idea to include plenty of recovery time between pitching and to avoid pitching with a sore elbow.
How Do You Treat Pitcher’s Elbow?
Pitcher’s elbow treatment usually begins with rest. If rest is not adequate, an orthopedist will typically recommend nonsurgical options like bracing, injections, pain medications, and physical therapy. Exercises and stretches for pitcher’s elbow can help the elbow recover from injury and manage pain.
When these conservative treatments do not provide relief from symptoms, surgery may be necessary. Tommy John surgery is a procedure that uses ligament tissue from another part of the body to repair and reconstruct the damaged UCL.
How Long Does It Take for Pitcher’s Elbow To Go Away?
Recovery through rest and conservative treatments can take weeks or months. It all depends on the individual and the severity of the injury. After Tommy John surgery, it can take 9 to 12 months to return to full pitching ability.
Recovery from surgery requires rest, the use of a brace or sling, and structured physical therapy. Many patients can begin physical therapy within a few days. They may need to wear a brace for six weeks or longer.
Evaluating and Treating Elbow Pain
If you or your child has elbow pain and engage in overhead throwing, stop immediately and consider getting an orthopedic evaluation. Our orthopedic elbow specialists will examine your elbow, listen to your symptoms, and use imaging tests to diagnose a condition and suggest treatment options. Contact us online to request an appointment with an EmergeOrtho—Foothills Region orthopedist.