Spring is nearly here, and baseball and softball players are delighted. They all look forward to hearing those special words … “Play ball!”
More than 15 million Americans play baseball each year, another 2.2 million play fast-pitch softball and more than 7 million play slow-pitch softball, according to a 2020 Sports and Fitness Association report. That’s a lot of kids and adults – amateurs and professionals – throwing balls, batting, running bases and backpedaling to catch a fly ball – all of which offer an opportunity for injury.
“Baseball and softball are not considered the most dangerous sports, that spot is reserved for football,” explained Eric Erickson, MD, Orthopedic Surgeon and Sports Medicine Specialist with ThedaCare Orthopedic Care. “Baseball and softball are great sports with many benefits for athletes, as long they play safely.”
He listed sprains and strains, overuse injuries, fractures and stress fractures, concussions and head injuries, elbow, knee, shoulder and hand injuries as the most common reasons ballplayers seek medical attention.
“Baseball and softball are not as physically intense games as many other sports, but the repetitive movements of the game contribute to overuse injuries in particular, especially when you consider the number of games and practices players are involved in over the course of season,” Dr. Erickson noted. “For pitchers and position players, rotator cuff, ulnar collateral ligament and labral tears can be the result of extensive throwing. Knee problems can result from sudden starting and stopping and pivoting to change direction while base running.”
Dr. Erickson cited three things as the most common causes of overuse and many other injuries:
- Failing to warm up muscles properly before practicing or playing a game – cold muscles are more prone to injury.
- Not conditioning properly to build strength and endurance.
- Not giving muscles time to recover between heavy workouts.
“It is incredibly important for athletes to warm up muscles before beginning to practice or play any sport,” Dr. Erickson said. “That holds true no matter what age or level someone is playing at, from T-ball all the way through to professional athletes.”
Dr. Erickson stressed it is important that players do their best to enter the season while having conditioned the entire “kinetic chain”, which includes maximizing the strength of your core muscles of the hip/pelvis/and trunk. These muscle groups can help protect the arm during the extremes of the throwing motion.
Injuries from playing ball typically fall into two categories – acute and cumulative. Acute injuries generally involve a sudden force or impact, such as players running into one another, tripping, or being hit by ball. Such injuries may need immediate attention and, if it’s a head injury, it’s probably a good idea to see a medical provider as soon as possible.
For most other injuries, Dr. Erickson recommends RICE as the first course of action; that is, rest, ice, compression, and elevate the injured area, if it’s a lower-body injury. Hand, wrist, elbow and shoulder injuries will benefit from icing as well as taping to reduce stress on the joint or muscle.
“It’s important to assess the degree of the injury,” said Dr. Erickson. “If you have severe swelling, pain or bruising and/or think you have a broken bone or a muscle or ligament tear, then a visit to a provider is in order.”
For immediate care needs, ThedaCare Orthopedic Walk-in Care, 2400 E. Capitol Drive, Appleton, is open Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. and on Saturday and Sunday from 8 a.m. to noon. To save time ahead of your visit, go to www.thedacare.org/orthonow and click on “I’m On My Way.”
Younger Baseball and Softball Players
For youth, Dr. Erickson said a medical professional should evaluate any injury that does not heal in a reasonable time.
“Growth plate injuries can happen, especially from repetitive overuse of specific muscles and joints, such as with pitchers and catchers who do a lot of throwing,” he said. “Coaches and parents should keep track of the amount of throws these young players make in a week, adding up both practices and games and follow the recommended pitch limits for the child’s age group. Fatigue puts pitchers at a high risk for injury.”
Dr. Erickson also recommends kids play a variety of sports instead of specializing in one sport early in life.
“Playing more than one sport is important for kids for a couple of reasons,” he explained. “First, kids might think they know what sport they want to play, but playing various sports will give them different experiences. Second, playing multiple sports will likely engage different muscles instead putting continual stress on particular muscle groups.”
He added that it’s also good idea for kids to take occasional breaks from playing any sports to let muscles rest and rebuild.
Another group that Dr. Erickson said experiences frequent injuries is weekend warriors.
“Most of us don’t like to acknowledge that we might be aging, but as we grow older, our bones, muscles and cartilage lose mass, tendons become drier and ligaments are less elastic, which makes us more susceptible to injury,” he said. “Again, the importance of warming up all muscle groups cannot be overstressed. Five to ten minutes of jogging in place, doing jumping jacks, shoulder rolls and light throwing will get blood flowing to joints and muscles to warm them up. That should be followed up with some leg stretching exercises. That combo of warm-ups can reduce the likelihood of injury.”
Dr. Erickson suggests weekend warriors engage in a consistent, balanced exercise program that involves all muscle groups rather than limiting one’s exercise activity to one or two days a week.
“A multi-day, 30-minute workout that involves a variety of exercise disciplines over the course of a week is ideal,” he said. “Include some cardiovascular exercise, strength and core training, and balance and flexibility activities. Having an overall well-toned body goes a long way toward helping prevent injuries.”
Because playing ball involves a lot of throwing, Dr. Erickson said it is important players of all ages have good throwing mechanics.
For those who may suffer a minor injury while playing softball or baseball, the Walk-In Clinic at ThedaCare Medical Center–Orthopedic, Spine and Pain Center in Appleton can offer help. It’s available to anyone who is suffering from a broken bone, muscle injury, work injury, swollen joint, sprain, strain, back pain, fracture or dislocation. Find more information at thedacare.org/orthopedics.
For more than 110 years, ThedaCare® has been committed to improving the health and well-being of the communities it serves in Northeast and Central Wisconsin. The organization delivers care to more than 600,000 residents in 17 counties and employs approximately 7,000 health care professionals. ThedaCare has 180 points of care, including eight hospitals. As an organization committed to being a leader in Population Health, team members are dedicated to empowering people to live their unique, best lives. ThedaCare also partners with communities to understand needs, finding solutions together, and encouraging health awareness and action. ThedaCare is the first in Wisconsin to be a Mayo Clinic Care Network Member, giving specialists the ability to consult with Mayo Clinic experts about a patient’s care. ThedaCare is proud to partner with Children’s Wisconsin and Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin health network to enhance convenient access to the most advanced levels of specialty care. ThedaCare is a not-for-profit health system with a level II trauma center, comprehensive cancer treatment, stroke and cardiac programs, as well as primary care.
For more information, visit thedacare.org or follow ThedaCare on social media. Members of the media should call Cassandra Wallace, Public and Media Relations Consultant at 920.442.0328 or the ThedaCare Regional Medical Center-Neenah switchboard at 920.729.3100 and ask for the marketing person on call.