Baseball is one of the most popular sports today, enjoyed by men and women, young and old, all over the world. Because it involves many mechanics of the body, including throwing, running and sliding, it can also be one of the most injurious – especially for student athletes who may not always be ready for the sport or receive the right training.
Baseball Injury Prevention is key. Injuries to the arms, shoulder, head, ankle and basic bumps and bruises can easily happen, and of particular concern are arm and shoulder injuries, especially for baseball pitchers. Learn about baseball injuries, and how you can help to prevent them so you can keep your athlete safe and ready to play their next game.
Shoulder Injuries in Baseball
Repetitively throwing a ball, specifically over the head or in the position of a pitcher, can lead to significant wear and tear on the arms and shoulder joints. Contributing factors include throwing while fatigued or slightly injured, overuse and improper throwing technique. Potential injuries include:
- Tendon tears
- Bursitis or tendonitis, which is an inflammatory condition
- Rotator cuff tears, which includes popping and clicking, persistent pain and limited range of movement for the shoulder
- Glenohumeral Internal Rotation Deficit, a loss of rotation within the glenohumeral shoulder joint
- Scapular Rotation Dysfunction, an injury to parts of the shoulder blade and shoulder tendons
Baseball Elbow Injuries
Elbow injuries can happen to anyone, but student athletes are especially susceptible due to the nature of their growing and changing bones. In baseball, the repetitive motion of throwing can cause muscles and tendons to pull on the bones, which are extra sensitive during a growth period. When not treated, an injury during critical growth times can lead to more damage later. Elbow injuries can cause pain and discomfort, and even a portion of the muscle or tendon to pull away from the elbow bone. A common elbow injury is tennis elbow, with symptoms including burning pain in the elbow area and sensitivity to touch. But don’t let the name fool you, baseball players and other athletes can also suffer from tennis elbow.
Overusing the elbow can lead to a more serious injury as compression between the elbow joint and bone can leave a pit in the bone making it very vulnerable to long term injury.
Other common baseball shoulder and arm injuries include:
- Overuse injuries that occur when an athlete does too much, like constant pitching, without the needed rest in between practice sessions or games
- Rotator cuff tendonitis which occurs when the tendon becomes irritated and inflamed as it rubs on the undersurface of the shoulder
- Shoulder separation, or subluxation, occurs when an athlete’s shoulder slips out of its joint. This is almost always exclusively related to overuse
Prevention by monitoring throwing style and frequency, as well as rest during periods of fatigue, is the best way to prevent elbow injuries. If you sense your child is over training or not getting enough rest between practice or games they could be at risk of an injury.
Head Injuries in Baseball
Helmets are always recommended for batters in baseball, but helmets don’t always prevent an injury if a strong pitch hits a batter in the head. Even a collision between a baserunner and the back catcher can cause a head injury.
Serious head injuries can cause long term complications from a concussion, and since most long-term side effects from a concussion are not seen right away, the initial injury might be overlooked.
If your athlete experiences a head collision during practice or a game keep an eye out for an of these symptoms:
- Appears dizzy or confused
- Moves in a clumsy manner or has a loss of balance
- Complains of blurry vision
- Can’t answer questions as quickly as normal or seems are unsure of where they are
- Loss of consciousness
An athlete with these signs and symptoms should be removed from play immediately and not allowed to return until evaluated by a doctor. Further, it is extremely important to not leave an athlete alone if a concussion is suspected.
Seek immediate medical help if any of the following symptoms are exhibited:
- A headache that increases in severity or lasts a long period of time
- Extreme sleepiness or confusion
- Frequent vomiting
- Loss of ability to walk or talk
- Weakness of the extremities
- Any other sudden change in thinking or behavior
Most athletes with a concussion will recover completely, often within a month of sustaining the injury. It is very important to take time to recover from a concussion as returning to play before completely recovering puts the athlete at risk for long term damage.
Ankle Injuries in Baseball
Sprinting around the diamond and the sliding into bases puts your baseball player’s ankles at risk for injury. Lateral ankle sprains, caused by rolling on the outside of the ankle, are very common if the runner stumbles over a base or steps on another player’s foot. A lateral ankle sprain causes the ligaments just below the bone on the outside of the ankle to become stretched or to pop. Mild sprains will usually heal within a week with proper use of ice, elevation and avoidance of pressure on the foot. However, if the ankle swells continually for several days, looks deformed and/or is badly bruised, an X-ray may be warranted.
Bumps, Bruises, and General Injuries in Baseball
Being hit with a ball, scraping a knee while sliding into home base, or experiencing a jammed finger from catching a hard pitch are just some of the other common injuries your child may sustain. While using due diligence to try to prevent any injuries at all, be sure to employ the PRICE protocol for any baseball injury:
- P: Protect yourself and the injured area
- R: Rest the injury
- I: Ice the injury
- C: Compression
- E: Elevation
Athletes should see an orthopedic specialist if any of these symptoms are present in any areas of the body:
- Deformity, such as a bone or lump protruding from the skin
- Limping or immobility that lasts more than 48 hours
- Any swelling that gets worse the next day despite icing the injury and taking an anti-inflammatory, such as ibuprofen
- Relentless pain that doesn’t go away or returns fiercely after a long period of rest
Preventing Baseball Injuries
There are several ways to avoid baseball injuries, especially related to arm and shoulder injuries.
- Be responsive to signs of fatigue. Ensure that you are resting when your arm or shoulder is becoming sore or still
- Take an “active rest” break, meaning that between seasons, a pitcher should avoid throwing overhand as frequently as he/she does during the season, but to still keep the arms exercising by throwing or pitching underhand
- Avoid allowing your child or yourself to pitch for multiple teams per season, which will put extra stress on the arms and shoulders.
- Teach and enforce proper throwing techniques. Moreover, avoid teaching a child the “curveball” technique at too young of an age, as it is thought that this technique can increase the chances for shoulder injuries
- Follow pitch count limits, as enforced by Little League:
- 7-8 year old should have up to only 50 pitches a day
- 9-10 year old should have up to only 75 pitches a day
- 11-12 year old should have up to only 85 pitches a day
- 13-14 year old should have up to only 95 pitches a day
- 15-16 year old should have up to only 95 pitches a day
- 17-18 year old should have up to only 105 pitches a day
Most importantly make sure your child warms up properly, stretches and keeps active year round to help prevent sport-related injuries. These guidelines have been developed by sports medicine experts to help you and your child have fun, get the most out of the sport and to stay healthy while playing.
If you think your child is suffering from overuse or experienced a sports related or baseball injury don’t hesitate to make an appointment with our orthopedic surgeon and sports medicine specialist, Dr. Goradia. In most cases he can see new patients within 48 hours so they can get the right diagnosis, treatment and get back in the game.