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Elbow Injuries on Rise Among Young Athletes
Date:7/14/2008

But surgery helps them return to prior playing level 83% of time, report shows

MONDAY, July 14 (HealthDay News) -- One of the country's leading sports doctors reports that he's performing more surgeries on sprained elbows in young athletes, a fact that reflects higher numbers of children focusing on just one sport.

The findings suggest that more young athletes are specializing only in baseball and putting their arms at risk, said co-author Dr. E. Lyle Cain, fellowship director for the American Sports Medicine Institute at the Andrews Sports Medicine & Orthopaedic Center, in Birmingham, Ala.

"Sports specialization at a young age encourages overuse," Cain said. "The bodies of athletes have no chance to rest and recover."

The good news: The surgeon who did the study, Dr. James Andrews, reported that 83 percent of his patients who underwent surgery recovered well enough to return to playing sports.

At issue are injuries to the ulnar collateral ligament, or UCL. It's a tiny ligament -- just a half-inch long -- that's crucial to keeping the elbow stable when a person throws something, Cain said.

In some cases, the ligament tears or becomes stretched out. "The patient generally has pain, and they lose the ability to throw, lose velocity," Cain explained.

The injury strikes baseball pitchers and other athletes who throw or swing their arms, such as tennis players, javelin throwers, quarterbacks and weightlifters.

"It's pretty common," said Dr. Robert Gotlin, director of Sports Rehabilitation with Beth Israel Medical Center in New York City. "Any particular league anywhere in the country is going to see injuries to the UCL but not necessarily requiring surgery."

Before the mid-1970s, the injuries ended athletic careers if they didn't heal. But a form of reconstructive surgery first performed on Hall of Fame baseball pitcher Tommy John has allowed many athletes to continu
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