By Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation
WEST ORANGE, N.J. — From Little League to the Major League and at all levels in between, baseball and softball season is in full swing — and with that comes the risk of injury. Tens of thousands of players will require medical attention for injuries that include strains, sprains, fractures and concussions, while countless others will experience aches and pains that go unreported.
“The most common injuries are mild soft-tissue injuries such as ligament sprains and muscle strains, along with cuts, bruises and contusions,” said Jeremiah Nieves, M.D., of the Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation (www.kessler-rehab.com). “We also see more serious ligament tears and cartilage damage in the knee caused by the start-and-stop motion of play, as well as overuse injuries, such as tendinitis, in the shoulder, elbow and wrist. Each year, thousands of players also wind up with fractures. And finally, despite protective equipment, players of all ages are at risk of experiencing eye injuries and concussions.”
Although baseball and softball are considered non-contact sports, players typically sustain the more serious injuries because of contact with a ball, bat or another player.
According to Mark Brinn, P.T., director of outpatient rehabilitation services at Kessler Institute: “Injuries can’t be avoided, but can be minimized. Sports, like baseball and softball, demand agility, speed, skill and coordination, and good overall conditioning can help players stay in the game throughout the season.”
Preparing to play
Kessler Institute, one of the nation’s leading providers of comprehensive physical medicine and rehabilitation services, suggests the following guidelines when preparing to play ball:
• Ideally, conditioning should begin long before the season starts to help players build core strength, flexibility and endurance. Trying to get in shape too quickly can lead to acute muscle strains and other injuries.
• Prior to taking the field for practice or a game, perform a minimum of 10 minutes of warm-up activities such as jogging, jumping-jacks, skipping, hopping or push-ups to increase body temperature and blood flow.
• Follow the warm-up activities by stretching all parts of the body, particularly the shoulders, back and hamstrings. Players should move into each stretch gently and avoid producing any pain.
• After stretching, do a few minutes of simple calisthenics such as arm circles, neck rolls and hip rotations.
• Finish your warm-up by playing soft-toss at a short distance. Gradually increase your distance and the intensity in which you are completing your throws.
In addition, players, coaches and trainers are advised to observe basic rules for equipment use and technique, including the following:
• Make sure that helmets, face guards and other protective equipment fit properly and are worn correctly.
• Provide instruction in proper sliding techniques and other on-field skills.
• Follow established pitching guidelines, particularly for youth baseball and softball.
• Ensure players stay well-hydrated and follow a balanced diet during the season.
Getting back in the game
Despite the best preparation, players will still experience injuries. Brinn suggests players listen to their bodies, as well as to their physicians and trainers, before considering resuming play. For example, a player with a joint injury should have full range of motion, no pain or swelling, and be at full strength before returning to the field. Any player who has sustained a concussion should undergo post-injury imPACT testing and a neuropsychology evaluation to be cleared for play.
“Injuries should always be evaluated by a medical professional and treated accordingly,” said Brinn. “Whether that means simply icing the injury and getting some rest or participating in a program of physical and/or occupational therapy, this will allow a player to optimize recovery and return to play in the best possible time frame.”
From the April 18-24, 2012, issue