Common Youth Arm Injuries
Children and adolescents are prone to injuries that differ from those of adults due to their ongoing bone growth. The bones contain cartilaginous growth plates (physis) responsible for bone elongation and enlargement. These areas’ injuries can occur due to repetitive stress or sudden large forces.
A child’s elbow can sustain injury from repetitive overhand throwing, most commonly observed in baseball pitchers, but cricket players also face risk. Any child engaged in repetitive overhand throwing is susceptible to throwers elbow.
Overhand throwing places stress on the growth areas. Repeated overloading can lead to excessive strain on the elbow structures, such as ligaments, cartilage, and growth plates.
Medial Apophysitis (“Little Leaguer’s Elbow”)
Active children commonly experience medial apophysitis, causing pain at the medial epicondyle on the inside of the elbow. The medial epicondyle, located at the end of the humerus bone, contains a growth plate called the medial apophysis. Excessive overhand throwing can irritate and inflame this growth plate, and young tennis players may also suffer from this injury.
Lateral elbow pain often stems from osteochondritis dissecans, where excessive overhand throwing compresses the immature bones of the elbow joint. Small bone and cartilage fragments may dislodge and float within the joint, sometimes requiring surgical removal.
Pain relief primarily involves active rest from the aggravating sport. Ignoring throwing injuries in the elbow can lead to severe conditions, and surgery may be necessary depending on the severity of the damage. If a child’s pain persists after a few days of complete rest, seeking advice from a physiotherapist or doctor is essential.
Stress Reaction of Growth Plates (Physis)
Repetitive stress on a child’s growth plates (physis) in the arms or legs can impair growth and cause pain if left unaddressed. Overuse of stress reactions may lead to irregularity or widening of the growth plate. Continued repetitive stress can permanently damage the growth plate and potentially halt growth prematurely, leading to bone deformities.
Sports such as gymnastics and overhand throwing can cause stress reactions in growth plates. For instance, gymnasts performing repetitive wrist activities may experience stress reactions in the distal radius bone’s growth plate.
Young baseball pitchers apply forces across their shoulders during overhand throws, potentially damaging the growth plate in the upper humerus (shoulder bone).
An orthopaedic assessment is necessary for X-rays showing abnormal growth plates in children engaged in high-risk sports, and they may require surgical treatment. Until assessed, they should abstain from the aggravating activity for at least 2 to 3 months unless their surgeon suggests otherwise.
Youth injuries can be complex and life changing if poorly managed. For specific advice, we strongly recommend seeking the professional opinion of a physiotherapist or doctor with experience in youth injuries.