The snow has melted, the days are getting longer, and the faraway, faint smell of ballpark franks is in the air. It’s time for baseball.
Allison Hocking, athletic trainer for the Milwaukee Milkmen through Midwest Orthopedic Speciality Hospital, squares up a handful of excellent baseball safety tips you can follow to avoid injury and stay safe this season. So before you head out to the field, here’s all the essential baseball safety information you need to know.
The Most Common Types of Baseball Injuries
Baseball is a comparatively safe sport because it’s very low-contact compared to other sports. There aren’t purposeful collisions like in football, and you’re not out on the ice like hockey players. However, danger still lurks in every baseball game.
Which types of baseball injuries are most common? Allison Hocking, athletic trainer for the Milwaukee Milkmen, explains that when it comes to baseball injuries, “you very rarely get acute injuries. It’s mostly chronic overuse injuries. Every so often, you’re going to get some sort of acute or contact injury that was just bad luck.”
Here’s what you should know about common contact injuries and overuse injuries seen in professional baseball players like Milwaukee’s very own Milwaukee Milkmen.
Common Contact Injuries in Baseball
Sliding into bases and collisions with other players are examples of how contact/acute injuries occur. The good news is they’re often easy to avoid. Also known as impact or traumatic injuries, the most common contact injuries are:
- Scrapes and Bruises (common baseball sliding injuries)
- Sprains (ligament twisting)
- Strains (tendon or muscle stretching or tearing)
- Concussions (head injuries from baseball are less likely but need to be treated by a doctor)
Common Overuse Injuries in Baseball
Unlike contact injuries, overuse injuries are easily overlooked and can sneak up on you. Baseball can be very intense, both in training and during the game. This intensity can lead to repetitive motions and over-exertion of our joints and muscles. It is crucial to consult a doctor right away if you feel pain or discomfort at any time. Delaying treatment can turn a minor problem into a serious injury that will require more treatment and more missed games.
Allison says, “Most of the time, you’re going to see a lot of upper body injuries to the shoulder, the elbow, the forearm or the thumb, but athletic trainers in baseball do get a lot of lower body baseball injuries as well. It’s kind of a mixture. Shoulder injuries occur especially frequently in pitchers, where we see more microtears and damaging sprains and strains.”
Examples of overuse sprains, strains, and areas of damage are:
- Shoulders: Pitchers tend to suffer rotator cuff pain from inflammation, tendonitis, and labrum tears; however, this type of injury can occur to any throwing arm.
- Elbows: The most common elbow injuries in baseball involve a UCL sprain which may require ulnar collateral ligament reconstruction, otherwise known as Tommy John surgery.
- Knees: MCL (medial collateral ligament) tears are common, and some require surgery.
- Hands, Wrists, and Fingers: Tendon damage in the hands and fingers, like “Baseball Finger” or “Mallet Finger,” occurs as well.
To fully recover from some of these overuse injuries, Allison treats not only the injury but also the body’s support areas. “Many of these injuries are caused by a deficit in another area. So we have to backtrack and ask, ‘What is causing this deficit?’ Let’s fix that from the ground up instead of just focusing on that one injury. Let’s get them back on track, so they can continue to go for the next ninety games.”
9 Important Baseball Safety Tips
Many baseball injuries can be prevented by using common sense, adhering to training protocols, and listening to your body. Use these baseball safety tips to avoid harming yourself and others so you can have a fun, safe baseball season.
1. Get a Check-Up
See a doctor for a wellness check-up before you begin training. It’s best to know if you have any underlying health issues before you play so you can avoid exacerbating a medical condition further. Allison recommends really listening to your body: “Players know they can prevent injuries from becoming worse when they’re aware that a part of their body isn’t feeling right, and then they can see their athletic trainer so we can catch problem conditions before they get worse. Early treatments or rehabilitation of an injury means we can monitor the problem area and get the player better throughout the rest of the season.”
2. Warm-Up and Cool Down
Warming up prepares your body for increased aerobic activity by pumping more blood to your muscles and raising your body temperature. Conversely, a cool-down session after aerobic exercise helps your body reduce the cardiovascular output slowly. According to the Mayo Clinic, “Done correctly, warming up and cooling down may offer help in reducing your risk of injury and improving your athletic performance.”
3. Pitchers: Protect Your Arm
Pitchers are more likely to injure their rotator cuff muscles. Allison states, “The rotator cuff includes the subscapularis, teres minor, supraspinatus, and infraspinatus muscles. You see a lot of injuries within there because these muscles control not only the acceleration and lead-through phases, but they also help you slow your arm down with what we like to call the follow-through phase. Over-handed pitches put a lot of strain on the rotator cuff, and when that becomes weak or fatigued, other supplemental muscles, like the pectorals, have to compensate for the shoulder injury and then those supplemental muscles can become stressed too.”
While overuse injuries of the arm can happen to any player, pitchers are especially at risk. Ever wonder why you may see a pitcher throwing with their non-dominant arm during baseball practice? These players are giving their throwing arm a break to avoid overuse injuries.
Watch for signs of arm fatigue, such as a dropped elbow or slower pitches. “I tell pitchers they have to take at least a month off after the season, if not more,” Allison advises. “Then slowly progress back into it so they can start seriously pitching by spring training.” Most importantly, never pitch through pain. Consult a doctor instead.
4. Catchers: Protect Your Knees
Surprisingly, the most common injury to a catcher is not from a player collision at home plate. Instead, catchers have a much higher rate of knee injuries from crouching. Allison knows that over-use injuries can depend on the position you play. She states, “Just like pitchers tend to have rotator cuff injuries if the position you play is a catcher, you’re going to see a lot more lower body injuries because you’re constantly in a squatting position.” It doesn’t help that our knees deteriorate as we age, so catchers must be mindful of their body’s needs. Like a pitcher, watch for signs of pain and fatigue and be seen by a doctor right away. Wear well-fitted catcher’s gear and proper footwear and avoid twisting a planted foot, which puts more strain on your knees.
The off-season lasts about four months, and the player must stay active during this time. Conditioning during the off-season keeps the body in peak condition. Training during this time focuses less on the techniques of the game and more on increasing a player’s strength, agility, speed, and stamina.
As an athletic trainer, Allison takes a whole-body approach to wellness. She not only treats the injury but the root cause by knowing the player’s deficits and treating support muscles. Allison clarified how important whole-body conditioning is to injury prevention. “A lot of players don’t realize you have to work on strengthening your wrist or the forearm muscles that support and surround the elbow joint. If those support muscles give out early by becoming fatigued and weak, more stress is put on the elbow ligament. Everything has to be in sync and in unison. For pitchers, most of the power is coming from the hips and core. Even if your arms are the strongest in the world, if your core isn’t, then you’re going to have issues. It’s vital to look at the whole picture, not just what is causing pain.”
Allison further explains the importance of off-season training: “Strength training is important during the off-season for this reason: to keep your whole body in condition and treat those deficits before they become a major issue during the season. Doing exercises that mimic baseball movements, like kettlebell swings, squats, and explosive movements like box jumps will help keep a player in good condition. An off-season strength training and maintenance program, even some kind of mobility or yoga workout that is not too demanding on the body, but is beneficial to the body, will prevent a lot of injuries from happening.”
7. Proper Equipment
Proper equipment is essential in preventing baseball injuries, no matter what level you’re playing in. Therefore, players should check their gear regularly to see that it is in good working condition, updated, and fits correctly.
All players need an athletic cup and a batting helmet. Catchers require more protection, such as leg guards, face mask helmets, and chest protectors. Knee guards and other additional protective gear continue to show a reduction in injury.
8. Proper Technique
Proper equipment is only half of the picture. A player also needs to know the proper techniques to help avoid injuries. For example, “heads up” applies to running bases and waiting to catch a fly ball. Teaching players to run and catch with their heads up aware of their surroundings can reduce contact injuries. Learning to throw a ball properly, stand at-bat, and release the bat once you begin running bases can also reduce overuse and contact injuries.
Keep your eye on the ball and the sky. Weather is often overlooked as a cause of injury because a warm sunny day doesn’t seem that dangerous. However, high humidity levels, temperatures that creep up, and the sun’s heat coupled with the excitement of playing and the intensity of the activity can lead to dehydration, sunburns, or heat stroke. Learn the signs and symptoms of heat-related illnesses and keep yourself cool and hydrated before, during, and after the game.
What Else Can You Do to Prevent Baseball Injuries?
Baseball safety tips aren’t just for players. Coaches need to examine the field for hazards and be aware of their environment. Then, assure that the field is safe and has an automated external defibrillator (AED) and a first aid kit.
Communicate with coaches any concerns you have and make sure the coaches know what may cause injuries and how to avoid them. The main goal of the team and coaches should be for everyone to have good, safe fun by following the rules.
Allison works with MOSH doctors. She says, “Our two team physicians are Dr. Neubauer and Dr. Pennington. They are both phenomenal.” Dr. Joshua Neubauer is fellowship trained in both shoulder arthroscopy and reconstruction as well as sports medicine and trauma. Dr. William Pennington is a board-certified Orthopedic Surgeon with subspecialty certification in sports medicine.
Consult with one of the Milkmen team doctors if you develop an orthopedic injury, and see a doctor anytime you feel discomfort, pain, or see a deformity like joint swelling or bruising. At MOSH, we believe everybody deserves top-quality care. We have orthopedic doctors and an orthopedic rehabilitation team ready to get you back to baseball and any activities you love. We specialize in treating professional and amateur athletes and those who play for fun and the love of the game. Contact us at 414-817-5800 or visit our website to learn more about why you should choose Midwest Orthopedic Specialty Hospital for your orthopedic care.