Pitcher's Elbow and How to Treat It

Elbow pain is a common issue for any athlete, especially for frequent ball throwers like baseball and softball players. The excessive throwing motion is the primary cause of pitcher’s elbow, creating strain from overuse. Here at Gelliflex, we’re shared our knowledge about a number of common pain problems like gamer’s wrist, musician’s elbow, and more, but here we’ll talk about pitcher’s elbow. We’ll explain everything you need to know, including risk factors for pitcher’s elbow and ways to treat it using the Gelliflex Abacus.


What Is Pitcher's Elbow

Pitcher's elbow (also known as 'little league elbow' because it is common among young baseball players when they throw too hard or too often) occurs because throwing a ball repetitively pulls and stretches the tendons and ligaments in the medial epicondyle (the bony lump on the inner side of the elbow). 


We can also witness the same pitcher’s elbow even in other games that involve throwing balls to teammates. Players are normally asked to take a break from competing in order to heal, especially if their playing ability is compromised. The pain occurs typically at the inner part of the elbow of the pitcher, and begins to hurt after the ball is thrown. 


Essentially, pitcher's elbow is a form of tendinitis. Symptoms of "pitcher's elbow' include: pain on the inside (medial) side of the elbow; tenderness; swelling; restricted range of motion, and elbow joint becoming stiff or locked; pain when flexing the wrist toward the elbow; pain that extends from inside of elbow to the pinky; a weak grip; pain when shaking hands; a tingling sensation extending from the elbow to the ring and pinky.

The risk of pitcher's elbow

The risk to the players depends upon the intensity of the issue. If the players experience continuous pain due to pitcher’s elbow, then immediate medical attention is necessary to prevent the problem from escalating any further.


Prognosis of pitcher's elbow

In some cases, the person who has elbow pain can regain proper elbow function through the proper amount of rest and physiotherapy. However, the affected athlete must consult a physician or physiotherapist for the problem that he is facing. If left untreated, the player might not be able to regain the strength, mobility, and function of his arm. 


Pitcher’s elbow occurs due to continuous stress and force applied to the elbow region. Without proper treatment, it can decrease the performance of the player even more significantly.


Related: Having Elbow Pains? Here’s What You Can Do

What Are the Risk Factors?

There are a variety of risk factors that leave athletes vulnerable to pitcher’s elbow. The primary factor is the age of the person or player. The bones and ligaments of young children between the ages of nine and fourteen are still growing, so their ligaments and joints are still immature. If these players are affected by the pitcher’s elbow, the issue might affect the development within the location of the arms, which can lead to more pain and abnormality in the future. They tend to face more risks and complications from this type of injury, so it's imperative to keep an eye on younger players and to have them take a break if they feel slight pain. In short, a permanent loss might occur to these children. However, the significant risk usually does not happen in matured players or athletes since their bones and ligaments are more developed.


Which type of baseball players get pitcher's elbow?

In general, it is considered that overuse in baseball is the main reason for pitcher’s elbow. The repeated motion of arms increases the risk of injury to the elbow. This issue often occurs in baseball players as well as other frequent ball throwers. The players who do the majority of the pitching will often experience these elbow issues. In other words, the more your throw, the more risk you will have in getting elbow injuries. 


The risk of elbow injury is more prominent among players who are not as experienced in pitching and lack proper form. The inexperienced players usually do not have the refined skills to throw the ball in a way that minimizes injuries. As a result, they are more likely to get affected by the pitcher’s elbow than experienced pitchers. 


However, the issue is less severe with experienced and professional players who have excellent skills at throwing the balls. This is mainly because they know the basic tactics of reducing the chances of injury. However, athletes who love throwing curve balls are also more prone to elbow damage based on the dramatic way they have to angle their arms. 

 


Other sports that can make you prone to pitcher's elbow

Apart from baseball, other sports can make you vulnerable to pitcher's elbow, and they include tennis, wrestling, cricket, javelin, golf, and gymnastics. Apart from throwers in the field, even the catchers, infielders, and outfielders might get affected by this elbow issue. There are occupations that are prone to pitcher’s elbow such as butchers, plumbers, and construction workers.


Related: Avoiding Wrist Injuries While Golfing

Treatment for Pitcher’s Elbow

What are the symptoms of pitcher's elbow?

The primary symptom associated with pitcher’s elbow is a painful sensation at the inner side of the elbow region. Someone with pitcher’s elbow might feel sudden pain, or it might develop more progressively. While the pain may develop gradually, it may eventually become excruciating. If the pitcher or player experiences any difficulty at all in moving the arms backward, forward, or throwing the ball to another person, then he should make an appointment to see the provider immediately. 


Another symptom that people suffering from pitcher's elbow might experience is the feeling that their elbow joint is stuck or locked. As a result, the player might have difficulty and pain throwing the ball in the field. Because of elbow movement difficulty, improper pitching occurs and a player might feel both physically injured and mentally frustrated.

What to do when you experience a slight elbow pain

At the onset of elbow pain, the player should consult a doctor to determine how best to treat the issue. The doctor examines the elbow region and takes note of the patient’s medical history. After reviewing the problem, the athlete will obtain the appropriate diagnosed through x-rays and other imaging modalities. The results of these tests will uncover the diagnosis of elbow pain. The reports can determine the intensity and the origin of the pain so that the doctor can provide the proper treatment plan.

 


Treatment options for pitcher’s elbow

The immediate symptoms of pitcher’s elbow are shooting pains and soreness of the arm. The first treatment plan is to rest and keep an eye on the pain intensity. The doctor may prescribe an elbow brace to stabilize it. This will reduce the pain in the elbow region and speed up the recovery process. The patient should not continue pitching until the elbow is completely healed. If the pain continues despite adequate rest, then the patient must let the doctor know for further examination.


Reducing inflammation of the arms

Another treatment plan for pitcher's elbow can be applying ice for a few days. This process is continued until the person gets better. The ice is applied on the upper region of the arm and shoulder for the whole duration of the recovery process. This will reduce the inflammation process of the elbow, and therefore, decrease the symptoms. 


The application of ice is practiced at regular intervals with minimum gaps since the skin needs some time to return to the normal temperature.

Physical therapy

An experienced medical practitioner will compress the pitcher's arm, and the bandage is used to cover the upper arm. This task is done to reduce the swelling. The pitcher’s arm requires constant monitoring by the doctor and physiotherapists to ensure that the range of motion is improving.


Some research says that the affected arm requires some degree of elevation. The arm is kept on the pillows and above the heart position to reduce swelling. In the case of excruciating pain, the provider will prescribe medication. The medication can reduce the pain temporarily, but for a permanent solution, proper diagnosis is a must. 


One great treatment option that combines ball squeezing, compression and elevation is the Gelliflex Abacus. The Gelliflex Abacus, a self-care massage tool, consists of several adjustable rows of elastomer gel balls on an abacus-like device.Squeeze the balls to strengthen your forearm and then change positions by. You can gently press the inner (medial) side of your elbow (about two finger widths below the elbow crease. Roll your elbow between two balls on the same row while placing the Abacus on an elevated area, like a table. Alternately, you can place two rows of the softest (purple) of the Gelliprene balls close together (but not touching) on the Abacus and gently slide your hand through the rows until it reaches the top of your forearm. Gently apply pressure to the inside (medial) side of your elbow about two finger widths below the crease of your elbow. Slide your arm through back and forth to feel the soothing compression effects of the Abacus.


If the pain does not subside, then it's imperative to let your healthcare provider know immediately.

The Recovery Process of Pitcher's Elbow

The recovery process of pitcher’s elbow involves some necessary steps with the help of a doctor. The steps are physical therapy, throwing analysis, injection therapy, and in extreme conditions, surgery is the solution to the problem.


The physical therapy mainly aims at improving the strength of the bones and muscles to help the patient cope with the normal range of motion. A professional therapist can give the therapy physically to the patient by proper arm exercises. These exercises improve the dull status of the tendons and ligament of the affected arm. With the help of therapy, the arm can get stronger and more flexible. 

Recover Arm Strength

Another paramount feature of this therapy is to reduce or stop the repetition of injury. An effective treatment plan is to increase the strength of the arm and to get it back to its original state before the elbow pain. The mobility will improve, and the patient can cope with his regular work out regime again. With this task, the pain is reduced and the pitcher's elbow can be fully healed.


You can supplement your physical therapy with self-physical therapy at home using the Abacus. Our self-massage tool can be used in versatile ways. With Gelliprene balls of various firmness levels, our adaptable self-massage tool can help relieve pain of varying degrees.

Complete Throwing Analysis

Another time-tested technique that is often utilized by therapists or doctors is the throwing analysis, which requires step by step evaluation. A professional who has profound experience in the throwing technique of an athlete can analyze the situation, and make the proper suggested recovery plan. During the throwing tests, the individual's elbow or hand movement is evaluated by the specialist, and the report is prepared on his technique by using simulation and video. After careful analyzation of the patient's elbow structure along with its abnormalities, a proper diagnosis and treatment plan can be initiated. A sports medicine doctor is the type of specialist that can evaluate this type of illness.

Injection therapy

Another highly productive and effective treatment for the patient who has a pitcher’s elbow issue is injection therapy. With this process, the stem cells of the patient are injected for the regeneration of affected or damaged cells. 

Surgery

Surgery is considered when the above steps do not work or yield low results. The surgery is performed by an orthopedic surgeon to correct the status of the elbow back to its normal position. The objective of the surgery is to improve mobility, add strength to the arms, and regain the function of the elbow. Once the surgery is over, the patient is advised to rest and avoid any potential sports. 


After surgery, the therapy process can be initiated to regain strength and range of motion. Depending upon the intensity of the surgery or injury, the patient can usually return to their athletic activity within 1-2 years. Plus, age plays a significant factor in determining the prognosis of the damage. If the patient is older, it might take a longer time. A young adult is more likely to recover faster. However, children might take a while because of their developing ligaments and bones. It is highly recommended that surgery should be the last option for the patient. It's best to avoid surgery, mainly because there are potential complications. 


At the end of the day, it's best to utilize both treatments with excellent training methods and techniques of throwing. This is to prevent the player from getting a second round of pitcher's elbow and end up back in the hospital.

Take Home Message

An excellent athlete or any player can avoid pitcher’s elbow injury by utilizing correct form. The simple mechanism for preventing elbow injury is to use the entire body to exert force while throwing a ball instead of one arm alone. Exerting too much force with just one arm can cause stress to the joints and ligaments, in turn causing elbow injury. But by using the whole body force in pitching, you can relieve stress in the arm muscles and bones. This technique is the proper way to prevent the elbow injury to all players. Instead of suffering from this type of injury, it is good to follow the training mechanics adopted by a professional trainer.


But even players with great form can suffer from pitcher’s elbow. Nonetheless, there are ways to treat it. Supplement your physical therapy regimen with the Gelliflex Abacus. This self-care massage tool can be used to relieve multiple kinds of pain across the body, but is especially useful for people with pitcher’s elbow. With self-massage and compression capabilities, it’s a great form of therapy that you can do at home.


Related: How to Avoid Repetitive Stress and Strain Injuries