Youthful Elbows Bent on Sports

The actions of weight lifting, gymnastics, and throwing among adolescents are the most common causes of osteochondritis dissecans (OCD) in the elbow. This is a condition in which a piece of bone and cartilage separate from the main bone. It occurs most often in older children and young adults. Boys are affected more than girls.

Elbow OCD usually happens at the end of the bone where the bone is still growing. Here, there are two separate parts of the bone, the bone itself and the growth plate. The growth plate is made of cartilage and gradually fills in with bone as the child grows and matures.

Bearing weight on the arms or stress from lifting weights places high loads on the elbows. This places the elbow joint at risk for OCD. For baseball players, throwing balls has the same affect. The increasing popularity of baseball has brought with it more cases of elbow OCD than ever before.

Left untreated, this condition can destroy the joint, cause bone spurs, and cause a painful loss of motion. This is not good for young athletes with a possible sports career ahead of them. Treatment starts with changing how the arm is used. Physical therapy with the use of ice, heat, ultrasound, and exercises is also advised.

If conservative treatment doesn't help, surgery is the next step. The doctor can use an instrument called an arthroscope to look inside the joint and find the problem. The loose bone can be removed and the joint shaved or smoothed. The doctor tries to save and repair as much as possible before removing tissue.

After surgery, physical therapy is part of the recovery and rehabilitation program. Athletes can return to their sport after treatment for elbow OCD. However, many choose a different activity without so much stress to the elbows.

References: J. W. Thomas Byrd, MD, and Kay S. Jones, MSN, RN. Arthroscopic Surgery for Isolated Capitellar Osteochondritis Dissecans in Adolescent Baseball Players. Minimum Three-Year Follow-Up. In The American Journal of Sports Medicine. July/August 2002. Vol. 30. No. 4. Pp. 474-478.