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A Review of Epidemiology of Paediatric Elbow Injuries in Sports

Abstract

The elbow is a common site of orthopaedic injury in the paediatric population. The number of these injuries continues to rise following increased levels of participation in paediatric recreational and competitive sport. Injuries to the paediatric elbow can be classified as either overuse or acute. Delineating injury patterns to the elbow in children can be challenging, given the cartilaginous composition of the distal humerus and the multiple secondary ossification centres that appear and unite with the epiphysis at defined ages. Pitching in baseball, serving in tennis, spiking in volleyball, passing in American football and launching in javelin-throwing can all produce elbow pathology by forceful valgus stress, with medial stretching, lateral compression and posterior impingement.

In children and adolescents, the epiphyseal plate is weaker than the surrounding ligaments, predisposing them to epiphyseal plate injuries. On the other hand, post-pubescent or skeletally mature athletes are more prone to tendinous or ligamentous injury. Injuries may cause significant impact on the athlete, parents and healthcare system. With the exception of baseball, there are few prospective cohort studies on the epidemiological trends of childhood elbow injuries in other sports.

This paper aims to describe the epidemiological trends in paediatric elbow injuries related to sports, suggests prevention strategies and discusses the scope for further research.

A web-based search of existing articles pertaining to paediatric elbow injuries in sports was performed.

The implications of acute and overuse injuries and the possibility of permanent damage should be understood by parents, coaches and the athletes. Proper understanding of the intrinsic and extrinsic risk factors that could lead to elbow injuries is thus required. Measures to prevent elbow injuries should include proper coaching, warm-up, officiation, legislation, medical expertise and protective gear. There are still many opportunities for prospective studies and other research projects among young athletes in various sports. Current studies will serve as a baseline for future research to assess the success of specific interventions in reducing the incidence of elbow injury in the paediatric athlete. Further epidemiological studies in various sports will help expand our knowledge and prevent potential disability and deformity in the paediatric elbow.

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No sources of funding were used to assist in the preparation of this review. The authors have no conflicts of interest that are directly relevant to the content of this review.

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Correspondence to Nicola Maffulli.

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Magra, M., Caine, D. & Maffulli, N. A Review of Epidemiology of Paediatric Elbow Injuries in Sports. Sports Med 37, 717–735 (2007). https://doi.org/10.2165/00007256-200737080-00005

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Keywords

  • Radial Head
  • Overuse Injury
  • Medial Epicondyle
  • Osteochondritis Dissecans
  • Ulnar Collateral Ligament