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Mar 01, 2019 / Sports Medicine

Young Athletes and Elbow Injuries

Like many injuries, an injury to the elbow can be caused by different factors – such as a trauma, repetitive stress from a sport or stress during developmental cartilage growth. One of the conditions our sports medicine experts treat in young athletes is osteochondritis dissecans (OCD). This is a condition inside a joint where the surface of one of the bones becomes weak and painful. Although this diagnosis occurs in the knee, our specialists are seeing it more and more in the elbow – especially with gymnasts and baseball players.  

Medical director and sports medicine pediatric surgeon at our Frisco campus, Philip L. Wilson, M.D., has a particular interest in caring for young athletes with this condition. “OCD of the elbow requires a pediatric specialist to evaluate the injury and develop a specialized plan of treatment,” says Wilson. “Because of the type of stress and the repeated impact from the intense training, and possibly some other predisposition, gymnasts and baseball players are more likely to have this condition. Our team is equipped to take care of these athletes through our therapy and imaging services to make sure we get them back to the sports and activities they love.” 

In a recent study, the hospital’s sports medicine team evaluated characteristics of the elbows of these young athletes to help answer this and other questions: Is the condition caused by the anatomy or the activity? In other words, we wanted to know whether the softening and crumbling of the cartilage and bone is caused by the way an athlete’s body is made and grows or is it the activity.

Many assume the activity causes the condition because we do not see this condition in other sports. The elbow of a serious pitcher or a gymnast is put under a lot of stress, but most appreciate that these activities are very different from each other. While pitching, the forces that are thought to contribute to OCD can occur when the elbow is cocked, behind the shoulder and ready to forcefully move forward. In this moment, the muscles pull the bones together. In gymnastics, the elbow functions more like a knee because so many activities require placing weight through the arms. Another common feature of these two types of athletes are that they often specialize at a young age. This means that they spend all of their training time in sport-specific activities to perfect their form and performance in that sport. This includes extended hours of training, personal coaches, multiple teams and year-round participation.

Our team reviewed the history and imaging studies of 51 cases of OCD in the elbow in baseball players and gymnasts to compare and contrast the presentation of this condition. 
  • There were differences with the part of the bone that was affected in the imaging.
  • There were consistencies in the histories of these athletes. Both groups competed at a highly competitive level in their sport. 
    • 7/10 of the gymnasts were competing a Level 8 or higher.
    • 8/10 baseball players were pitchers or catchers.
Learn more about the conditions out sports medicine experts treat. 

Learn more about Osteochondritis Dissecans (OCD) in the Elbow.

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