Though it may still be cold and dreary outside, spring is just around the corner -- and with it, the start of a new baseball season.
Baseball is a noncontact sport, but it presents its own specific set of possible injuries. The following information can help baseball players and their parents recognize these injuries along with ways to prevent or treat them.
What's the most common injury you see in baseball players?
When athletes are first coming back from a winter break to start spring training, I often see acute muscle strains because they try to do too much, too soon -- the hamstring, quadriceps and back area are the most common sites of strained muscles.
Throughout the season, I see more problems with overuse injuries to the shoulder and elbow caused by repetitive movements such as throwing or swinging. Pitchers are especially prone to this.
What are overuse injuries?
In younger players, I often see problems in the growth centers in the shoulder or the elbow, sometimes called "Little League shoulder" or "Little League elbow," respectively. Repetitive throwing puts stress on the growth plate causing irritation, inflammation and in severe cases, even a small break.
Older players may experience tendonitis of the rotator cuff or medial epicondylitis, more commonly known as "golfer's elbow" or "pitcher's elbow."
The most common symptom of an overuse injury is pain that occurs with throwing at the affected site -- it will feel different than the normal pain of being sore. Many players will experience early arm fatigue and a loss of velocity or accuracy during throwing, as well.
How should these injuries be treated?
Acute muscle strains and minor joint aches and pains can typically be treated at home with ice, over-the-counter pain medicines and rest.
Injuries that involve swelling of the affected joint or that become more severe should be evaluated by a physician. Pain that occurs consistently in a throwing arm should also be professionally evaluated.
How can players avoid these injuries?
Acute injuries such as sprains and fractures are difficult to prevent and are inherent to most sports. However, a basic warmup and stretching before practice or play can help. Start with a warmup that involves light, easy cardio, and follow it with gentle stretching particularly in the back, shoulder and hamstring area.
Baseball athletes, especially pitchers, should be given ample time to get their throwing arm in shape at the beginning of the season. I recommend following a “throwing program” that gradually increases throwing distance and velocity over a three-to-four week period.
Additionally, an off-season conditioning program designed to strengthen the core, rotator cuff, and shoulder blade stabilizing muscles can be extremely beneficial for throwing athletes. This type of program can be continued throughout the season to keep these muscles strong.