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Play Ball … Safely!

Last updated: March 28, 2023

It’s incredibly important for athletes to warm up muscles before beginning to practice or play any sport. That holds true for every age and ability level — from T-ball all the way through to professional athletes.

Dr. Eric Erickson, Orthopedic Surgeon and Sports Medicine Specialist, ThedaCare Orthopedic Care

Spring is here, much to the delight of baseball and softball players. 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, adults, amateurs and professionals throwing balls, batting, running bases and backpedaling to catch a fly ball. These all carry the risk for injury.

“Baseball and softball are not considered the most dangerous sports; that spot is reserved for football,” says Dr. Eric Erickson, an 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.”  

Common issues among ballplayers include:

  • Sprains and strains
  • Overuse injuries
  • Fractures and stress fractures
  • Concussions and head injuries
  • Elbow, knee, shoulder and hand injuries

Baseball and softball are not as physically intense games as many other sports. However, the repetitive movements of the game contribute to overuse injuries, in particular. This is especially true when you consider the amount of time players spend at games and practices over the course of a season, Dr. Erickson says.

“For pitchers and position players, extensive throwing can lead to rotator cuff, ulnar collateral ligament and labral tears. Knee problems can result from sudden starting and stopping and pivoting to change direction while base running,” he says.

Common Causes of Injuries

Dr. Erickson cited three common causes of overuse and many other injuries: 

  • Neglecting to warm up muscles properly before practicing or playing a game — cold muscles are more prone to injury.
  • Failing to condition properly to build strength and endurance.
  • Giving muscles too little time to recover between heavy workouts.

“It’s incredibly important for athletes to warm up muscles before beginning to practice or play any sport,” Dr. Erickson says. “That holds true for every age and ability level — from T-ball all the way through to professional athletes.”

It’s important for players to do their best to enter the season having conditioned the entire “kinetic chain,” which includes maximizing the strength of the core muscles of the hip, pelvis and trunk, Dr. Erickson says. 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 getting hit with a 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.

If you experience a lower-body injury, Dr. Erickson recommends RICE as the first course of action; that is, rest, ice, compression and elevation of the injured area. 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,” Dr. Erickson says. “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.”

Youth Baseball and Softball Players

For kids, Dr. Erickson says a medical professional should evaluate any injury that does not heal in a reasonable amount of 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 says. “Coaches and parents should keep track of the number of throws these young players make in a week, adding up both practices and games. Make sure to follow the recommended pitch limits for the child’s age group. Fatigue puts pitchers at 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 says. “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 of putting continual stress on particular muscle groups.”

It’s also good idea for kids to take occasional breaks from playing any sports to let muscles rest and rebuild, he says.

Adult Players

Weekend warriors also experience frequent injuries, Dr. Erickson says.

“Many of us don’t like to acknowledge that we’re aging, but as we grow older, our bones, muscles and cartilage lose mass, tendons become drier, and ligaments become less elastic, which makes us more susceptible to injury,” he says.

It’s important to warm up all muscle groups. Five to 10 minutes of jogging in place and doing jumping jacks, shoulder rolls and light throwing will get blood flowing to joints and muscles to warm them up, he says. Follow that up with some leg-stretching exercises. That combo of warmups can reduce the likelihood of injury.

Weekend warriors should also engage in a consistent, balanced exercise program that involves all muscle groups rather than limiting exercise activity to one or two days per week, Dr. Erickson says.

“A multi-day, 30-minute workout that involves a variety of exercise disciplines over the course of a week is ideal,” he says. “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.”

Suffered a baseball or softball injury?

Visit ThedaCare Orthopedic Walk-in Care in Appleton, open seven days a week.

Tags: baseball injuries concussion head injury overuse injuries Softball injuries

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