Sports injuries are injuries that typically occur while participating in organized sports, competitions, training sessions, or organized fitness activities. These injuries may occur in teens for a variety of reasons, including improper training, lack of appropriate footwear or safety equipment, and rapid growth during puberty. Often overuse injuries seem less important than acute injuries. You may be tempted to ignore that aching in your wrist or that soreness in your knees, but always remember that just because an injury isn’t dramatic doesn’t mean it’s unimportant or will go away on its own. If left untreated, a chronic injury will probably get worse over time. Learn more about pulled muscles and the ways to treating muscle pull.
Your elbow joint consists of three bones: the humerus, the radius and the ulna. These bones are held together by connective tissue, and these ligaments (in combination with the muscles of your arm) help hold the bones in place. If you fall and catch yourself with your hand, such as in sports that put you at risk of falling like ice skating and gymnastics, or twist your arm, you could fracture one of these three bones. This condition is known as an elbow fracture.
Symptoms of an elbow fracture commonly include sudden, intense pain; swelling; tenderness to the touch; stiffness around the elbow; and numbness in the fingers.
An X-ray is necessary to diagnose an elbow fracture and rule out other possible injuries such as a dislocation, so you should consult a sports medicine specialist as soon as possible. He or she might also examine your arm and hand to make sure that the injury did not hamper blood flow to the rest of the arm.
To treat an elbow fracture, all that may be necessary is keeping the arm in a sling for a few weeks to let it heal (under the close supervision of a sports medicine specialist). This method might also require wearing a cast or a splint.
If the fracture is serious enough to warrant surgery, however, it’s usually because the pieces of bone have moved out of alignment, and therefore your arm wouldn’t heal properly on its own, or because pieces of bone are sticking out of the arm from the fracture. To do this, screws and wires may be necessary to put the bone back together. Allowing the bones to heal improperly can result in long-term problems, such as an inability to fully straighten the arm.
After your elbow fracture has healed, get back into everyday activities slowly. Your doctor may recommend physical rehabilitation or exercises to help you regain strength and range of motion in the arm. Recovery is often a slow process; it can take six months or more to fully recover the arm.
The joint of your elbow is made up of three bones: the humerus, the radius and the ulna. These bones are held together by connective tissue, and these ligaments (in combination with the muscles of your arm) help hold the bones in place. If you fall and catch yourself with your hand, such as in sports that put you at risk of falling like ice skating and gymnastics, you could knock these bones out of alignment. This condition is known as an elbow dislocation.
Common symptoms of a dislocated elbow include intense pain in the elbow and possibly the inability to move the arm. The elbow also usually looks oddly twisted or deformed, due to the movement of the bones.
If you think you’ve dislocated your elbow, consult a doctor immediately. Depending on the severity of the dislocation, it could be a medical emergency. That’s because when the bones that make up the elbow move, they can disrupt the nerves and blood vessels that run through that area. If circulation to your arm is disrupted, it can cause permanent damage that may even require amputation.
Your sports medicine specialist will take an X-ray to determine the extent of the dislocation, and he or she likely also will ask you to move your arm and hand to evaluate whether or not you have circulatory or nerve damage to the arm, hand or elbow.
One way to treat a dislocated elbow is to physically push the bones back into their normal places. But if the injury is too serious for this method to be effective, surgery is necessary to repair ligaments and put bones back where they belong. Further surgery also might be necessary to repair damaged blood vessels and nerves.
After your arm bones have been returned to their normal orientation, physical therapy or rehabilitation exercises might be necessary to help you regain movement in the arm.
The tip of your elbow may seem bony, but there’s actually a sac called a bursa that sits between the bones that make up the elbow. Elbow bursitis, also known as students elbow, occurs when this sac becomes inflamed or irritated, resulting in pain during activity and while at rest, swelling, difficulty in moving the elbow, and sometimes a feeling of warmth around the elbow.
Elbow bursitis can be caused by trauma, such as a fall, or long-term pressure on the elbow from leaning on it. Infection from a cut or scrape can also cause the bursa to swell, and this infection is what leads to the feeling of warmth some people with elbow bursitis experience. Because falls can cause elbow bursitis, athletes who play sports that put them at risk of falling, such as ice skating, hockey or gymnastics, or at risk of getting hit on the elbow, such as cricket, are at increased risk of this condition. But anyone who falls and experiences elbow trauma can get elbow bursitis.
If you think you have elbow bursitis, see your doctor or sports medicine professional. He or she likely will recommend that you immobilize the affected elbow; draining the fluid in the bursa may also be necessary, as may antibiotics if the bursa is infected. An X-ray of the elbow might be necessary to see if you have bone spurs; these sometimes are found in patients who get elbow bursitis often. Finally, surgery to remove the affected bursa might be necessary if lesser measures prove ineffective.
To prevent elbow bursitis, wear elbow pads to protect your elbow from getting hit with a ball and to cushion it if you fall.
Throwing a baseball or softball can put significant strain on the elbow—and for children, whose bones are still growing, this can lead to an overuse injury known as Little League elbow.
Before puberty, the elbow contains a growth plate made of cartilage that is soft and less durable than hard bone, and which hasn’t yet reached its full length. The growth plate is attached to the muscles that allow you to rotate the lower arm towards the ground and flex the wrist. Repeatedly throwing a ball, and not allowing enough recovery time between training sessions, can cause tiny cracks in cartilage that may eventually separate the plate from the bone. This damage can occur over time, or from just one pitch.
If you suspect your child has Little League elbow, he or she should stop pitching immediately, apply ice for 15 to 20 minutes, and support the affected elbow by wrapping it in an elastic bandage.
Your doctor may want to take an X-ray to diagnose a suspected case of Little League elbow, and to see how extensive the damage is to the growth plate. If the condition is caught early, permanent damage is rare, and the elbow generally will heal with time, rest, icing and compression. Less often, your doctor will need to put your child’s arm in a cast to let the growth plate heal, and if damage is very severe, surgery may be necessary to pin the plate to the elbow.
Once the elbow has healed, prevent a recurrence by making sure your child’s coach supervises his or her pitching for proper form. Limiting pitching time, along with holding off on pitching curve balls until the pitcher has reached puberty, also can keep the elbow healthy—and keep your child on the field.
Perhaps one of the best-known sports injuries is tennis elbow, an overuse injury of a tendon in the elbow. Despite the name of the condition, it can actually be caused by any activity in which you flex and lift your wrist and hand repeatedly.
The most obvious symptoms of tennis elbow are, perhaps not surprisingly, elbow pain. This discomfort may radiate from the outside of the elbow, down to the wrist and hand, worsen over time and be accompanied by weakness in the lower arm.
Golfer’s elbow, another well-known condition, differs from tennis elbow because tennis elbow affects the outside of the elbow, whereas golfer’s elbow causes pain on the inside of the joint
Resting the injured arm, icing it, compressing it and taking over-the-counter anti-inflammatory pain killers may help your elbow heal on its own. But if your elbow feels hot and inflamed, you think you might have broken a bone, or you can’t move your arm, see your doctor. He or she may suggest you see a physical therapist to learn exercises that will lengthen and strengthen the muscles of your arms. You may also need to use a brace or strap to support the elbow and reduce stress on it. Finally, in about 10 percent of tennis elbow, surgery is necessary to either sever and then reattach the tendon, or trim the part of it that’s become inflamed.
Once you’ve recovered from tennis elbow, you can prevent it from coming back by continuing with the physical therapy exercises that helped your elbow heal, along with altering the movements that may have caused the injury, such as your tennis swing. This can help minimize reduce stress and strain on the elbow. In fact, by learning to protect your elbow, you may actually end up improving your tennis game!