Injuries in the Throwing Athlete: Thrower’s Elbow

Sports such as baseball, tennis, water polo, football and volleyball are all considered throwing sports. The repetitive overhead motions in these sports can lead to throwing injuries like SLAP tears and tendinitis. Perhaps one of the most common throwing sport injuries we see is referred to as thrower’s elbow.

According to local Pediatric Orthoapedics and Sports Medicine Physician, Dr. John Schlechter of Pediatric Orthopaedic Specialists of Orange County, thrower’s elbow affects the growth plate and is, therefore, considered an adolescent injury.

What is Thrower’s Elbow

baseball pitcher

According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, “Thrower’s elbow occurs when there is damage to the bones, muscles, tendons and ligaments around the elbow joint and forearm.” In comparison to other elbow related injuries like tennis and golf elbow, thrower’s elbow affects both the inside of the elbow joint.

As Dr. John Schlechter points out, “The growth plate becomes inflamed due to repetitive injury from muscular contraction and overuse. Since growth plates are only found in individuals that are growing, the condition is isolated to adolescents and “skeletally immature children.” As he notes, thrower’s elbow in adolescents only remains an issue until the growth plate closes. For females, this is between 14-17yo and males, 16-18yo.

Common Symptoms of Thrower’s Elbow

Like many injuries and conditions, the symptoms of thrower’s elbow may vary from individual to individual. Additionally, they may also resemble the signs and symptoms of other injuries. The most common and noted symptoms of thrower’s elbow include:

  • Weakness

  • Pain on the inside of the elbow joint

  • Stiffness

  • Swelling on the inner side of the elbow

  • Pain with activity – especially throwing

  • Tenderness

  • Restriction in range of motion

  • Numbness/tingling

Treatment Options for Thrower’s Elbow

physical therapy loops

If you are experiencing any of the above symptoms, it is important to consult with a medical professional like Dr. Schlechter who treats this injury regularly. In order to properly heal and recover from thrower’s elbow, there are a few treatment options.

  • Prevention – Before the injury even occurs, prevention is key! Learning the proper throwing mechanics, following the rules for pitch counts, and properly warming up and resting between games can help to prevent thrower’s elbow from happening to begin with.

  • RICE – When you first notice the pain, the best thing you can do is follow the RICE method – rest, ice, compress, elevate and then seek the attention of a medical professional.

  • Physical Therapy – As you start on the road to recovery, the first order of business will be to help reduce the pain and swelling of the joint. As you begin to make process and your pain is reduced, your physical therapist will work with you to restore your strength, range of motion, and mechanics.

  • Surgery – In severe cases of thrower’s elbow, surgery may be recommended or required. Your physician will most likely recommend that you try less-invasive options such as rest and physical therapy before prescribing surgery.

  • Thrower’s Ten Focus - Throwing injuries are common – so common, in fact, that Dr. Kevin Wilk, PT, DPT, FAPTA and Dr. James Andrew developed a specific training program specifically for throwers. The Thrower’s Ten Program was designed to help improve muscular strength, and decrease fatigue, therefore reducing injury. Wilk and Andrews put together a team of experts that’s experience in baseball sports medicine spanned over 100 years. To formulate the program, they used data from EMG studies at the American Sports Medicine Institute in addition to other research centers across the country. The exercises within the Thrower’s Ten Program are meant to be simple yet effective and require little equipment. As you or your baseball player look to prevent or even rehabilitate from a throwing injury, it is important to include the Thrower’s Ten Program.

Now is the time to either start taking the appropriate steps to preventing a throwing injury or rehabilitating an ongoing injury. With the help of an experienced medical team who has seen a number of throwing injuries, you can prevent or overcome thrower's elbow.

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University of Maryland Medical Center, "Thrower's Elbow,"

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