Trends in the Presentation, Management, and Outcomes of Little League Shoulder

Am J Sports Med. 2016 Jun;44(6):1431-8. doi: 10.1177/0363546516632744. Epub 2016 Mar 16.


Background: With rising participation in youth sports such as baseball, proximal humeral epiphysiolysis, or Little League shoulder (LLS), is being seen with increasing frequency. However, there remains a paucity of literature regarding the causes, natural history, or treatment outcomes of LLS.

Purpose: To analyze the demographic, clinical, and diagnostic features of a population of LLS patients, with an emphasis on identifying underlying risk factors for the development and recurrence of LLS after nonoperative treatment.

Study design: Case series; Level of evidence, 4.

Methods: A departmental database at a high-volume regional children's hospital was queried to identify cases of LLS between 1999 and 2013. Medical records were reviewed to allow for analysis of age, sex, athletic information, physical examination and radiologic findings, treatment details, clinical course, and rates of recurrence.

Results: Ninety-five patients (93 males, 2 females; mean age, 13.1 years; range, 8-16 years) were diagnosed with LLS. The number of diagnosed cases increased annually over the study period. All patients had shoulder pain with overhead athletics; secondary symptoms included elbow pain in 13%, shoulder fatigue or weakness in 10%, and mechanical symptoms in 8%. While the majority of patients (97%) were baseball players (86% pitchers, 8% catchers, 7% other positions), a small subset (3%) were tennis players. On physical examination, 30% were reported to have glenohumeral internal rotation deficit (GIRD), defined as a decreased arc of rotational range of motion of the shoulder. Treatment recommendations included rest in 99% of cases, physical therapy in 79% (including 100% of patients with GIRD), and position change upon return to play in 26%. Average time to full resolution of symptoms was 2.6 months, while average time to return to competition was 4.2 months. Recurrent symptoms were reported in 7% of the overall cohort at a mean of 7.6 months after initial diagnosis. The odds of recurrence in the group with diagnosed GIRD (14%) were 3.6 times greater than those without GIRD (5%; 95% CI: 0.7-17.1), but this difference was not statistically significant (P = .11).

Conclusion: Little League shoulder is being diagnosed with increasing frequency. While most common in male baseball pitchers, the condition can occur in females, youth catchers, other baseball positions players, and tennis players. Concomitant elbow pain may be seen in up to 13%. After rest and physical therapy, recurrent symptoms may occur in a small subset of patients (7%), generally 3 to 6 months after return to sports. Almost one-third of LLS patients had GIRD, and this group had approximately three times higher probability of recurrence compared with those without GIRD.

Keywords: Little League shoulder; pediatric overuse injuries; proximal humeral epiphysiolysis; throwing shoulder; youth pitchers.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Baseball / injuries*
  • Child
  • Epiphyses, Slipped / diagnosis*
  • Epiphyses, Slipped / therapy*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Shoulder Injuries / diagnosis*
  • Shoulder Injuries / therapy*