Elbow Injuries

What types of injuries occur?

Elbow injuries are common in children and adolescents, particularly in children who are very active and in those who participate in organized sports. Athletes in sports involving overhead activity such as baseball, tennis and golf are exceptionally prone to elbow injury.

COMMON INJURIES SEEN IN OUR PRACTICE INCLUDE: 

ACUTE INJURY: Injuries that occur as a result of one particular traumatic episode are referred to as acute injuries. In skeletally immature children, acute injuries can occur at the area of growth in the bone, otherwise known as the growth plate. For example, growth plate fractures in the elbow can occur when a child or adolescent falls on the elbow or the outstretched hand. Elbow fractures commonly involve the lower end of the humerus bone. The growth plate is more commonly injured in children because the growing cartilage/bone often is the weakest structure compared to the surrounding shoulder ligaments. Most growth plate fractures heal without complications, but these injuries often require special attention to avoid future problems with growth. Other examples of acute injuries to the elbow include an elbow dislocation or a ligament avulsion injury (best known for a procedure called Tommy John surgery). Acute injuries to the elbow can occur with a blow to the elbow, a fall on the outstretched arm, or a forceful overhead throw. Elbow dislocations can result in cartilage damage in the elbow.

OVERUSE INJURY: Injuries that occur over time because of repetitive activity are known as overuse injuries. For example, chronic elbow pain that occurs with throwing in baseball players may be related to overuse and inflammation around the growth plate (apophysis) in the inside part of the elbow (medial epicondyle). This injury is referred to as Little League Elbow, or medial epicondyle apophysitis. Overuse injury can also occur in the soft-tissues of the elbow (Tendons, ligaments, capsule, etc) instead of in the growth plate. Depending on the symptoms, this injury may be referred to as tendonitis or bursitis. Osteochondritis dissecans of the capitellum is another condition in the elbow that is thought may be from overuse or microtrauma, although this is somewhat controversial. This injury occurs when a small area of bone beneath the joint surface cartilage loses its blood supply. The overlying cartilage can weaken over time and the the piece of bone can dislodge into the joint. 

What symptoms do I look for?

Pain and swelling present after an acute trauma indicate a musculoskeletal injury. The pain may be generalized to the area or be specific to one particular location. Severe pain, numbness, tingling, and restriction of motion may indicate more serious injury. Chronic (or overuse) injury may present more gradually, with more vague complaints of pain that is made worse with arm activity. Overhead athletes may notice a decline in their performance due to the pain.

When should my child see a doctor?

Consulting an orthopedic specialist is warranted when pain, swelling, and trouble using the arm persist despite home treatment such as RICE (R-Rest, I-Ice, C-Compression, E-Elevation). If your child is unable to return to activities or sports, or if he has joint swelling, locking or instability, seeking professional assistance is essential. Consulting a pediatric orthopedic professional is especially important if your injured child is still growing. Injuries that occur near the growth plate can be challenging to recognize and appropriate treatment is necessary to ensure adequate management and healing. Sports Medicine specialists are able to make specific recommendations about rehabilitating the injury and safely returning to activity and sports. 

What should I expect at my appointment?

The Rocky Mountain Youth Sports Medicine Institute offers fellowship-trained physicians that specialize in the treatment of the wide range of injuries that affect school-aged athletes. Our dedicated team will develop a detailed treatment plan that includes a rehabilitation program focused on returning your child to play safely.  When surgery is necessary, our fellowship-trained pediatric orthopedic surgeons will discuss specialized, age-appropriate and minimally invasive surgical options. 

Services available at the Youth Sports Medicine Institute

  • Surgical and non-surgical treatment of musculoskeletal injuries/sports injuries
  • Full-spectrum orthopedic care (complex fractures, ligament and cartilage trauma/injury, limb deformity, hand/upper extremity conditions, spine and hip disease/conditions)
  • State of the art x-ray (new technology with low-dose radiation and enhanced clinical imaging)
  • Physical therapy and sports performance facility
  • Comprehensive concussion management program
  • Sports nutrition consultation    

Services available on the campus of the Centennial Medical Plaza

  • Outpatient surgery tailored to the needs of young patients
  • MRI (New 3T technology to allow for shorter scan times and higher quality images)
  • Emergency Care 24/7    

In addition, our Institute offers our patients full access to other specialists at RMHC.