Ulnar Collateral Ligament Injury

Ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) injuries generally occur when repetitive stress damages the inside of the elbow, compromising stability. UCL injuries are most common in athletes who play "overhead" sports, such as volleyball and baseball, which require using the arms in an overhead position. These injuries are occurring in greater frequency with the rise of sport specialization. They are often referred to as "Tommy John" injuries, named after the famous baseball pitcher who underwent the first surgery for a UCL injury in 1974. A physical therapist can help improve your arm's strength and range of motion, and your body's overall stability and balance following a UCL injury.

What Are Ulnar Collateral Ligament Injuries?

The ulnar collateral ligament is a band of tissue that connects the inside of your upper arm (humerus) to the inside of your forearm (ulna). This ligament helps to support and stabilize your arm when you perform a motion, such as throwing a ball. A UCL injury may at first cause pain and tightness in the area. However, over time and with repetitive stress or trauma, the UCL can become stretched and even tear. Surgery is not always necessary to heal a UCL injury, but it may be performed if pain persists or the elbow feels unstable upon a return to sport or other activities.

Signs and Symptoms

With a UCL injury, you may experience:

  • Soreness or tightness along the inside of your elbow

  • Minor swelling and possible bruising along the inside of your arm

  • Possible numbness and tingling in your arm

  • Instability at your elbow joint (a feeling like your elbow might “give out” when you move it through certain motions)

  • Pain when using your arm in an overhead position (eg, throwing/pitching a ball, swinging a racquet)

  • Difficulty warming up for a sport, or needing a longer time to warm up

  • Poorer performance (eg, a decrease in pitching speed)

How Is It Diagnosed?

Your physical therapist will conduct a thorough evaluation that includes taking your health and activity history. Your physical therapist may ask you questions including:

  • When and how did this injury occur? (Sudden or gradual?)

  • How long have you had pain?

  • Have you had any numbness and tingling in your arm?

  • Did you feel a "pop" near your elbow when throwing or performing an overhead activity?

  • Have you experienced any instability (eg, a feeling of your arm “giving out”) when performing an overhead activity?

  • Have you experienced a decrease in job or sport performance?

  • What other sports or activities do you participate in?

  • Have you had to stop playing your sport, or performing your job, because of the injury to your elbow?

Your physical therapist may gently touch the area around your elbow joint to locate the specific area of pain. Your physical therapist may slightly bend your arm while applying pressure along the outside of your elbow joint, or ask you to mimic a throwing motion as the therapist resists against it.

To provide a definitive diagnosis, your physical therapist may collaborate with an orthopedic surgeon. The surgeon may order further tests, such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or magnetic resonance arthrogram (MRA), to confirm the diagnosis and to rule out other possible damage.

How Can a Physical Therapist Help?

Your physical therapist can help improve your arm's strength and range of motion following a UCL injury, and help restore your shoulder and core stability, coordination, and balance. Your therapist also will work with you before and after any necessary surgery, and can help identify other issues that may have contributed to your injury, such as range of motion and strength deficits, or improper throwing mechanics. Your physical therapist will help you:

Boost your healing process. Decreasing stress across the injured area is the best way to promote healing of a UCL injury. Your physical therapist will likely tell you to take some time off from your sport or other activity. Your therapist may educate you on the RICE (rest, ice, compression, elevation) principle and may implement "cross-friction massage" to help the body supply nutrients to the injured ligament.

Strengthen your muscles. After your injury your arm may feel weaker. Strengthening the muscles of your shoulder, upper back, and shoulder blades in addition to those of the forearm will help decrease the stress at the elbow joint. Addressing lower-body balance or any weakness through your hips and trunk also may help decrease stress across your elbow.

Improve your range of motion. After your injury you may notice more difficulty straightening or bending your arm. Your physical therapist will work with you to improve your arm's range of motion, including possibly stretching your shoulder to help decrease stress on your elbow when performing overhead movements.

Correct your movements. While every sport requires different arm positions, certain positions may put an athlete at greater risk for injury to the elbow. Examining and modifying the movements you perform may help you safely return to your sport. Your physical therapist will help design a specific program to allow a gradual full return to activity.

Prepare to return to sport. An important component of preparing for a return to sports after an UCL injury is preparing the arm to properly withstand the stress placed on it during throwing or other overhead motions. Your physical therapist will work with you to establish and implement a progressive program to prepare you for a return to practice and competition.

If Surgery Is Required

If surgery is necessary, your physical therapist may measure your arm strength and range of motion prior to surgery to define a baseline goal to achieve following the procedure.

Immediately following surgery, your arm will likely be placed in a splint, brace, or sling to protect your elbow. Physical therapy will begin within the first week to 10 days following surgery. Your physical therapist will:

  • Provide appropriate guidance. You will receive an individualized treatment program of gradual rehabilitation that will ensure you heal in the safest and most effective way possible. 

  • Protect the graft/repair site in the early postoperative period. You will be provided a brace that will likely need to be worn for 5 to 6 weeks, depending on your surgeon’s preference. Your physical therapist will show you how to ensure you don’t bend your arm too much or rotate your shoulder too far during this time.

  • Improve how far you can move your shoulder and elbow. When you are ready, your physical therapist will help you gently bend and straighten your arm through different exercises and stretching techniques. Your therapist also will gently stretch your shoulder to help decrease stress across the elbow.

  • Improve the strength of your arm. Through a series of exercises, your physical therapist will work with you to improve your arm strength. Your hand grip and forearm strength will likely be the first things you will work on following surgery. As you progress, the exercises will begin to focus more on your shoulder blade and upper back muscles.

  • Improve muscle strength and coordination. As you begin to heal and progress, your exercises will become more specific to your sport or other activity.

Resuming sport-specific activities. An athlete who has experienced a UCL injury can begin to return to throwing at approximately 6 months after surgery. The return is based on the surgeon and physical therapist providing clearance to do so.

Returning to full competition. An athlete generally can be cleared to return to game competition approximately 12 to 14 months after surgery.

Can this Injury or Condition be Prevented?

Certain factors may increase a person’s chances of injuring the UCL. For example, shoulder and elbow range of motion imbalances may play a role in creating too much stress at the elbow. Balance and coordination deficits also can lead to improper movement during sporting or other activities. Your physical therapist will design an individualized treatment program to address and correct these deficits.

Current evidence suggests the biggest factors for athletes developing this injury are pitch velocity, and the overall volume of throwing and other overhead activities performed in a specific sport. Throwing with high velocity (>83 mph), pitching too many pitches, pitching on short rest, pitching while fatigued, and introducing new pitches in excess are all factors related to exposing the UCL to force that it may not be able to withstand. Other factors such as age, type of sport, and position played also may affect overall arm fitness and health. It is important to keep up with regular arm care and exercises in order to reduce the likelihood of injury. 

Real Life Experiences

Jason is an 18-year-old college baseball player who is also on the Dean’s List at school. Last week, he “pulled an all-nighter” studying for an important test, and pitched an important game on exam day.

Jason pitched a great first inning, but noticed his right elbow began to feel tight in the second inning; he lost some control over his pitches in the third. By the fourth inning, he was pushing through pain and tightness because he didn’t want to let his team down. When throwing a fast ball to the second batter in the fifth inning, he felt a “pop” and a sharp pain in his right elbow. He then felt numbness and tingling on the inside of his right forearm and was unable to continue pitching.

The school’s athletic trainer examined Jason, applied ice to the arm, and put it in a sling. He referred Jason to an orthopedic surgeon who specialized in baseball injuries. The surgeon diagnosed a severe UCL injury. After talking with the surgeon and his family, Jason decided to have surgery to reconstruct the UCL on his right elbow.

Immediately after surgery, Jason was placed in a custom splint that held his elbow at a 90° angle with a sling around his shoulder to support his arm. He began his physical therapy 10 days after his surgery.

Jason’s physical therapist gently removed his splint and helped him begin to move his right elbow and shoulder. He gave Jason a series of exercises to perform at home, to work on his posture, shoulder blade strength, and the overall range of motion of his elbow and shoulder.

Over the next few weeks, Jason teamed with his physical therapist to work on his shoulder and elbow range of motion, single-leg balance exercises, core strengthening, and posture and shoulder-blade exercises. As he regained strength and motion, Jason learned new exercises to strengthen the muscles of his shoulder. His physical therapist measured his range of motion to ensure he was on track, and introduced more intense exercises at the shoulder and elbow.

Jason then began a throwing program that gradually increased the stresses across his elbow as he moved from shorter- to longer-distance throws. His physical therapist and pitching coach instructed him to focus on his mechanics and be aware of the position of his arm, trunk, and legs when he threw.

When the new baseball season began, Jason was able to return to the starting lineup! With careful attention to the instructions of his physical therapist on adequate warm ups, safe throwing motions, maintaining shoulder and arm strength and overall balance, and not throwing too much, he was able to pitch a complete season.

Jason called his physical therapist after his last postseason game, proud to report that he had set a personal record for number of wins and earned run average!

This story was based on a real-life case. Your case may be different. Your physical therapist will tailor a treatment program to your specific case.

What Kind of Physical Therapist Do I Need?

Although all physical therapists are prepared through education and experience to treat UCL injuries, you may want to consider:

  • A physical therapist who is experienced in treating people with UCL injuries. Some physical therapists have a specialized practice with a focus on sports and orthopedics, and more specifically, the upper extremity.

  • A physical therapist who is a board-certified clinical specialist or who has completed a residency or fellowship in sports or orthopaedic physical therapy. This physical therapist has advanced knowledge, experience, and skills that may apply to your condition.

You can find physical therapists who have these and other credentials by using Find a PT, the online tool developed by the American Physical Therapy Association to help you search for physical therapists with specific clinical expertise in your geographic area.

General tips when you're looking for a physical therapist:

  • Get recommendations from family and friends or from other health care providers.

  • When you contact a physical therapy clinic for an appointment, ask about the physical therapists' experience in helping people who have UCL injuries.

  • During your first visit with the physical therapist, be prepared to describe your symptoms in as much detail as possible, and say what makes your symptoms worse.

Further Reading

The American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) believes that consumers should have access to information that could help them make health care decisions and also prepare them for a visit with their health care provider.

The following articles provide some of the best scientific evidence related to physical therapy treatment of UCL injuries. The articles report recent research and give an overview of the standards of practice for treatment both in the United States and internationally. The article titles are listed by year and are linked either to a PubMed* abstract of the article or to free access of the full article, so that you can read it or print out a copy to bring with you to your health care provider.

Whiteside D, Martini DN, Lepley AS, Zernicke RF, Goulet GC. Predictors of ulnar collateral ligament reconstruction in Major League Baseball pitchers. Am J Sports Med. 2016;44(9):2202–2209. Article Summary in PubMed.

Bruce JR, Andrews JR. Ulnar collateral ligament injuries in the throwing athlete. J Am Acad Orthop Surg. 2014;22(5):315–325. Article Summary in PubMed.

Garrison JC, Cole MA, Conway JE, et al. Shoulder range of motion deficits in baseball players with an ulnar collateral ligament tear. Am J Sports Med. 2012;40(11):2597–2603. Article Summary on PubMed.

Shanley E, Rauh MJ, Michener LA, et al. Shoulder range of motion measures as risk factors for shoulder and elbow injuries in high school softball and baseball players. Am J Sports Med. 2011;39(9):1997–2006. Article Summary on PubMed.

Wilk KE, Macrina LC, Fleisig GS, et al. Correlation of glenohumeral internal rotation deficit and total rotational motion to shoulder injuries in professional baseball pitchers. Am J Sports Med. 2011;39(2):329–335. Article Summary on PubMed.

Fleisig GS, Andrews JR, Cutter GR, et al. Risk of serious injury for young baseball pitchers: a 10-year prospective study. Am J Sports Med. 2011;39(2):253–257. Article Summary on PubMed.

Hariri S, Safran MR. Ulnar collateral ligament injury in the overhead athlete. Clin Sports Med. 2010;29(4):619–644. Article Summary on PubMed.

Lin YC, Thompson A, Kung JT, et al. Functional isokinetic strength ratios in baseball players with injured elbows. J Sport Rehabil. 2010;19(1):21–29. Article Summary on PubMed.

Dines JS, Frank JB, Akerman M, Yocum LA. Glenohumeral internal rotation deficits in baseball players with ulnar collateral ligament insufficiency. Am J Sports Med. 2009;37(3):566–570. Article Summary on PubMed.

Reinold MM, Wilk KE, Macrina LC, et al. Changes in shoulder and elbow passive range of motion after pitching in professional baseball players. Am J Sports Med. 2008;36(3):523–527. Article Summary on PubMed.

Kibler WB, Sciascia AD, Uhl TL, et al. Electromyographic analysis of specific exercises for scapular control in early phases of shoulder rehabilitation. Am J Sports Med. 2008;36(9):1789–1798. Article Summary on PubMed.

Petty DH, Andrews JR, Fleisig GS, Cain EL. Ulnar collateral ligament reconstruction in high school baseball players. Am J Sports Med. 2004;32(5):1158–1164. Article Summary in PubMed.

*PubMed is a free online resource developed by the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI). PubMed contains millions of citations to biomedical literature, including citations in the National Library of Medicine’s MEDLINE database.

Revised by David Colvin, PT. Authored by Craig Garrison, PT, PhD, ATC, and Joseph Hannon, PT, DPT. Reviewed by the MoveForwardPT.com editorial board.

 


Shoulder Labral Tear

An unstable shoulder joint can be the cause or the result of a labral tear. "Labral" refers to the ring of cartilage (glenoid labrum) that surrounds the base of the shoulder joint. Injuries to the labrum are common, can cause a great deal of pain, and may make it hard to move your arm. A labral tear can occur from a fall or from repetitive work activities or sports that require you to use your arms raised above your head. Some labral tears can be managed with physical therapy; in severe cases, surgery may be required to repair the torn labrum.

The ring of cartilage called the glenoid labrum provides extra support for the shoulder joint, helping to keep it in place. A shoulder labral tear occurs when part of this ring is disrupted, frayed, or torn. Tears may lead to shoulder pain, an unstable shoulder joint, and, in severe cases, dislocation of the shoulder. Likewise, a shoulder dislocation can result in labral tears.

When you think of the shoulder joint, picture a golf ball (the head of the upper-arm bone, or humerus) resting on a golf tee (the glenoid fossa, a shallow cavity or socket located on the shoulder blade, or scapula). The labrum provides a rim for the socket (golf tee) so that the humerus (golf ball) does not easily fall off. If the labrum is torn, it is harder for the humerus to stay in the socket. The end result is that the shoulder joint becomes unstable and prone to injury.

Because the biceps tendon attaches to the shoulder blade through the labrum, labral tears can occur when you put extra strain on the biceps muscle, such as when you throw a ball. Tears also can result from pinching or compressing the shoulder joint, when the arm is raised overhead.

There are 2 types of labral tears:

  • Traumatic labral tears usually occur because of a single incident, such as a shoulder dislocation or an injury from heavy lifting. People who use their arms raised over their heads—such as weight lifters, gymnasts, and construction workers—are more likely to experience traumatic labral tears. Activities where the force occurs at a distance from the shoulder, such as striking a hammer or swinging a racquet, can cause a traumatic labral tear. Falling on an outstretched arm also can cause this type of tear.

  • Nontraumatic labral tears most often occur because of muscle weakness or shoulder joint instability. When the muscles that stabilize the shoulder joint are weak, more stress is put on the labrum, leading to a tear. People with nontraumatic tears tend to have more "looseness" or greater mobility throughout all their joints, which might be a factor in the development of a tear.

LabralTear_SM.jpg

How Does it Feel?

A shoulder labral tear may cause you to feel:

  • Pain over the top of your shoulder

  • "Popping," "clunking," or "catching" with shoulder movement, because the torn labrum has "loose ends" that are flipped or rolled within the shoulder joint during arm movement, and may even become trapped between the upper arm and shoulder blade

  • Shoulder weakness, often on one side

  • A sensation that your shoulder joint will pop out of place

How Is It Diagnosed?

Not all shoulder labral tears cause symptoms. In fact, when tears are small, many people function without any symptoms. However, healing may be difficult due to the lack of blood supply available to a torn labrum. The shoulder with a labral tear may pop or click without being painful, but if the tear progresses, it is likely to lead to pain and weakness.

If your physical therapist suspects that you have a labral tear, your physical therapist will review your health history and perform an examination that is designed to test the condition of the glenoid labrum. The tests will place your shoulder in positions that may recreate some of your symptoms, such as "popping," "clicking," or mild pain, to help your physical therapist determine whether your shoulder joint is unstable. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) also may be used to complete the diagnosis. Some labral tears may be difficult to diagnose with certainty without arthroscopic surgery. Your physical therapist may consult with an orthopedic surgeon if necessary.

How Can a Physical Therapist Help?

When shoulder labral tears cause minor symptoms but don’t cause shoulder instability, they usually are treated with physical therapy. Your physical therapist will educate you about positions and activities to avoid, and tailor a treatment plan for your recovery. Your treatment may include:

Manual therapy. Your physical therapist may provide gentle manual (hands-on) therapy to decrease your pain and begin to restore movement in the shoulder area.

Strengthening exercises. Improving the strength of the muscles of the shoulder will help you decrease the stresses placed on the torn labrum and allow for better healing. Your physical therapist may design rotation exercises that target the muscles of the shoulder joint, and shoulder-blade (scapular) exercises to provide stability to the shoulder joint itself.

Stretching exercises. An imbalance in the muscles or a decrease in flexibility can result in poor posture or excessive stress within the shoulder joint. Your physical therapist may prescribe stretching exercises—such as gentle stretches of the chest (pectoralis) muscles—to improve the function of the muscles surrounding the shoulder. Your physical therapist also may introduce middle-back (thoracic) stretches to allow your body to rotate or twist to the side, so the shoulder joint doesn’t have to stretch further to perform tasks, such as swinging a racquet or golf club.

Postural exercises. Your physical therapist will assess your posture, and teach you specific exercises to ensure your shoulders are positioned properly for daily tasks. A forward-head and rounded-shoulder posture puts the shoulders at risk for injury.

Education. Education is an important part of any physical therapy treatment plan. Your physical therapist will help you understand your injury, the reasons for modifying your activities, and the importance of doing your exercises to decrease your risk of future injury.

Home-exercise program. A home-exercise program is an important companion to treatment in the physical therapy clinic. Your physical therapist will identify the stretching and strengthening exercises that will help you steadily improve your shoulder function and meet your work, home, and activity goals.

Following Surgery

In more severe cases, when conservative treatments are unable to completely relieve the symptoms of a labral tear, surgery may be required to reattach the torn labrum. Following surgery, your physical therapist will design a treatment program based on your specific needs and goals, and work with you to help you safely return to your daily activities.

A surgically repaired labrum takes 9 to 12 months to completely heal. Immediately following surgery, your physical therapist will teach you ways to avoid putting excessive stress or strain on the repaired labrum.

As the labrum heals, your physical therapist will introduce resistance and strengthening exercises, such as those listed above, to your treatment plan, to address your specific needs, and help you slowly and safely return to performing daily tasks that require force or lifting. Your physical therapist is trained to gradually introduce movements in a safe manner to allow you to return to your usual activities without re-injuring the repaired tissues.

Can this Injury or Condition be Prevented?

Forceful activities performed with the arms raised overhead may increase the likelihood of developing a labral tear. To avoid putting excessive stress on the labrum, you need to develop strength in the muscles that surround the shoulder and scapula. Your physical therapist can:

  • Design exercises to help you strengthen your shoulder and shoulder blade muscles

  • Show you how to avoid potentially harmful positions

  • Train you to properly control your shoulder movement and modify your activities to reduce your risk of sustaining a labral injury

  • Provide posture education to help you avoid placing unnecessary forces on the shoulder

  • Help you increase your shoulder and middle-back flexibility


What Kind of Physical Therapist Do I Need?

All physical therapists are prepared through education and experience to treat patients who have a shoulder labral tear, but you may want to consider:

  • A physical therapist who is experienced in treating people with musculoskeletal problems. Some physical therapists have a practice with an orthopedic focus.

  • A physical therapist who is a board-certified clinical specialist or who completed a residency or fellowship in orthopedics physical therapy has advanced knowledge, experience, and skills that may apply to your condition.

You can find physical therapists who have these and other credentials by using Find a PT, the online tool built by the American Physical Therapy Association to help you search for physical therapists with specific clinical expertise in your geographic area.

General tips when you're looking for a physical therapist (or any other health care provider):

  • Get recommendations from family and friends or from other health care providers.

  • When you contact a physical therapy clinic for an appointment, ask about the physical therapists' experience in helping people with labral tears.

  • During your first visit with the physical therapist, be prepared to describe your symptoms in as much detail as possible, and say what makes your symptoms worse.

Further Reading

The American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) believes that consumers should have access to information that could help them make health care decisions and also prepare them for their visit with their health care provider.

APTA has determined that the following articles provide some of the best scientific evidence for how to treat labral tears. The articles report recent research and give an overview of the standards of practice for treatment both in the United States and internationally. The article titles are linked either to a PubMed* abstract of the article or to free access of the full article, so that you can read it or print out a copy to bring with you to your health care provider.

Mazzocca AD, Cote MP, Solovyova O, et al. Traumatic shoulder instability involving anterior, inferior, and posterior labral injury: a prospective clinical evaluation of arthroscopic repair of 270° labral tears. Am J Sports Med. 2011;39:1687-1696.  Article Summary on PubMed.

Dodson CC, Altchek DW. SLAP lesions: an update on recognition and treatment. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther. 2009;39:71-80. Article Summary on PubMed.

Keener JD, Brophy RH. Superior labral tears of the shoulder: pathogenesis, evaluation, and treatment. J Am Acad Orthop Surg. 2009;17:627-637. Article Summary on PubMed.

 *PubMed is a free online resource developed by the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI).  PubMed contains millions of citations to biomedical literature, including citations in the National Library of Medicine’s MEDLINE database.”

Authored by Charles Thigpen, PhD, PT, ATC and Lane Bailey, PT, DPT, CSCS. Reviewed by the MoveForwardPT.com editorial board.

 


What is Pitcher's Elbow?

Pitcher's elbow, also known as  medial epicondyle apophysitis , is a common injury that occurs among young baseball players. Caused by "overuse" and "repetitive motion," pitcher's elbow causes pain and swelling inside of the elbow, can limit one's range of motion, and will limit or prevent the ability to throw a ball.  Causes  The forceful and repetitive nature of overhand throwing for baseball players (pitchers in particular) can cause inflammation of the growth plate inside the throwing elbow, resulting in pitcher's elbow. Adolescent baseball players are most likely to experience this injury because their elbow structure (ie, bones, growth plates, and ligaments) is not fully mature or developed.  The following risk factors contribute to pitcher's elbow:   Age.  Young baseball players (particularly those between the ages of 9 and 14 years) are at greater risk because their elbow joints are not fully developed. Less mature bones, looseness of the ligaments, open growth plates, and undeveloped musculature are common in youth pitchers and predispose them to overuse injuries.    Pitching too many games.  The number of games pitched should be carefully monitored and the  league's pitch count rules  followed. Research has proven that overuse in baseball contributes to injuries such as pitcher's elbow. Specifically, there is evidence it can occur over the course of a game (pitching more than than 75 pitches per game), per season (pitching more than 1,000 pitches per season), or per year (pitching more than 3,000 pitches per year. Also, it is advised that pitching not occur for greater than 8 months of the year. If pain occurs before the pitch count limit is reached, the player should stop immediately. Additionally, pitching should be halted if fatigue is experienced during the game. Rotating pitchers within games is a good idea to ensure each pitcher gets adequate rest.   Curveballs and breaking pitches.  Likely due to poor pitch mechanics, both of these types of pitches appear to put more stress on the growth plate than other pitches. These should be limited, especially in players between the ages of 9 and 14 years.   Improper mechanics.  Improper throwing mechanics can put undue force on the elbow joint. Proper throwing mechanics can help a young player avoid unnecessary injury and develop proper technique that improves their game. Your coach or other qualified instructors can be used as a resource to ensure you have learned proper mechanics.  More about pitch count   No multiple pitching appearances in a single game.  Your child should not make more than 1 pitching appearance in 1 game (ie, pitch, change positions, then pitch again).   No circumventing pitch count rules by pitching in multiple leagues.  Most youths now play in multiple leagues and the number of pitches can only be tracked for each individual league. It is important to avoid violating the pitch count restrictions by pitching in multiple leagues.   No pitching at home after having pitched in a game.  To limit the number and amount of overall pitches thrown, players are advised not to pitch at home after having pitched in a game.   Get appropriate rest between pitching performances .  See recommended pitch count rules .  How a Physical Therapist Can Help  Physical therapists are experts in restoring and improving mobility and motion in people's lives, and eliminating pain. For young baseball players, this means a physical therapist will work with you to help prevent pitcher's elbow, and recover safely if it does occur.  In addition to following the guidelines for pitch counts and recommendations for rest, a physical therapist will help baseball players prevent the occurrence of pitcher's elbow by teaching them stretching and strengthening exercises that are individualized to their specific needs. Everybody is different, which means pitcher's elbow may occur for different reasons for each person. A physical therapist will help a player recover by designing an individualized treatment plan to regain range of motion, flexibility, and strength.  Bibliography  MomsTeam.com. Protecting Young Pitching Arms.  The Little League pitch count regulation guide for parents, coaches, and league officials . Updated February 27, 2017. Accessed March 7, 2018.  Fleisig GS, Andrews JR, Cutter GR, et al. Risk of serious injury for young baseball pitchers: a 10-year prospective study.  Am J Sports Med . 2011;39(2):253–257.  Free Article .  Nissen CW, Westwell M, Ounpuu S, Patel M, Solomito M, Tate J. A biomechanical comparison of the fastball and curveball in adolescent baseball pitchers.  Am J Sports Med . 2009;37(8):1492–1498.  Free Article .  Dun S, Loftice J. Fleisig GS, Kingsley D, and Andrews JR. A biomechanical comparison of youth baseball pitches: is the curveball potentially harmful? Am J Sports Med. 2008;36(4):686–692.  Free Article .  Olsen SJ Jr, Fleisig GS, Dun S, Loftice J, Andrews JR. Risk factors for shoulder and elbow injuries in adolescent baseball pitchers. Am J Sports Med. 2006;34(6):905–912.  Free Article .  USA Baseball Medical & Safety Advisory Committee.  Position statement on youth baseball injuries . Updated May 2006. Accessed March 7, 2018.  Lyman S, Fleisig GS, Andrews JR, Osinski ED. Effect of pitch type, pitch count, and pitching mechanics on risk of elbow and shoulder pain in youth baseball pitchers. Am J Sports Med. 2002;30(4):463 –468.  Free Article .  Lyman S, Fleisig GS, Waterbor JW, et al. Longitudinal study of elbow and shoulder pain in youth baseball pitchers. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2001;33(11):1803–1810.  Free Article .  Andrews JR, Fleisig GS. Preventing throwing injuries [editorial]. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther. 1998;27(3):187–188.  Free Article .  Ireland ML, Hutchinson MR. Upper extremity injuries in young athletes. Clin Sports Med. 1995;14(3):533–569.  Article Summary in PubMed .

Pitcher's elbow, also known as medial epicondyle apophysitis, is a common injury that occurs among young baseball players. Caused by "overuse" and "repetitive motion," pitcher's elbow causes pain and swelling inside of the elbow, can limit one's range of motion, and will limit or prevent the ability to throw a ball.

Causes

The forceful and repetitive nature of overhand throwing for baseball players (pitchers in particular) can cause inflammation of the growth plate inside the throwing elbow, resulting in pitcher's elbow. Adolescent baseball players are most likely to experience this injury because their elbow structure (ie, bones, growth plates, and ligaments) is not fully mature or developed.

The following risk factors contribute to pitcher's elbow:

Age. Young baseball players (particularly those between the ages of 9 and 14 years) are at greater risk because their elbow joints are not fully developed. Less mature bones, looseness of the ligaments, open growth plates, and undeveloped musculature are common in youth pitchers and predispose them to overuse injuries. 

Pitching too many games. The number of games pitched should be carefully monitored and the league's pitch count rules followed. Research has proven that overuse in baseball contributes to injuries such as pitcher's elbow. Specifically, there is evidence it can occur over the course of a game (pitching more than than 75 pitches per game), per season (pitching more than 1,000 pitches per season), or per year (pitching more than 3,000 pitches per year. Also, it is advised that pitching not occur for greater than 8 months of the year. If pain occurs before the pitch count limit is reached, the player should stop immediately. Additionally, pitching should be halted if fatigue is experienced during the game. Rotating pitchers within games is a good idea to ensure each pitcher gets adequate rest.

Curveballs and breaking pitches. Likely due to poor pitch mechanics, both of these types of pitches appear to put more stress on the growth plate than other pitches. These should be limited, especially in players between the ages of 9 and 14 years.

Improper mechanics. Improper throwing mechanics can put undue force on the elbow joint. Proper throwing mechanics can help a young player avoid unnecessary injury and develop proper technique that improves their game. Your coach or other qualified instructors can be used as a resource to ensure you have learned proper mechanics.

More about pitch count

No multiple pitching appearances in a single game. Your child should not make more than 1 pitching appearance in 1 game (ie, pitch, change positions, then pitch again).

No circumventing pitch count rules by pitching in multiple leagues. Most youths now play in multiple leagues and the number of pitches can only be tracked for each individual league. It is important to avoid violating the pitch count restrictions by pitching in multiple leagues.

No pitching at home after having pitched in a game. To limit the number and amount of overall pitches thrown, players are advised not to pitch at home after having pitched in a game.

Get appropriate rest between pitching performancesSee recommended pitch count rules.

How a Physical Therapist Can Help

Physical therapists are experts in restoring and improving mobility and motion in people's lives, and eliminating pain. For young baseball players, this means a physical therapist will work with you to help prevent pitcher's elbow, and recover safely if it does occur.

In addition to following the guidelines for pitch counts and recommendations for rest, a physical therapist will help baseball players prevent the occurrence of pitcher's elbow by teaching them stretching and strengthening exercises that are individualized to their specific needs. Everybody is different, which means pitcher's elbow may occur for different reasons for each person. A physical therapist will help a player recover by designing an individualized treatment plan to regain range of motion, flexibility, and strength.

Bibliography

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