In this guide, we’ll cover the six most common baseball injuries and how to prevent them. Use the following tips to stay on the field and off the bench this baseball season!
There is nothing more disheartening than training your heart out, only to be sidelined by an injury.
This is especially true if the injury was preventable.
Just because baseball is a no-contact sport does not mean injuries don’t happen. The nature of baseball’s repetitive muscle movements means that you are at risk for wear and tear. On top of that, serious injuries can come from contact with the baseball bat, ball, as well as other players.
Although you can’t prepare for every accident, you can take measures to ensure you stay safe and on your game.
In this guide we’ll discuss different types of baseball injuries, as well as tips for how to avoid them.
6 Common Sports Injuries in Baseball
Below are some common sprains and strains experienced by baseball players. Note that while you might hear “sprain” and “strain” used interchangeably, a sprain refers to damage to the ligaments (bands of tissue that connect two bones) and a strain refers to damage to the muscles or tendons (tissue that connects bone to muscle).
These injuries are diagnosed and graded based on severity, with inflammation and mild overstretching being the lowest grade and a complete tear being the highest grade.
- Rotator Cuff Tear
Your rotator cuff is a group of four muscles that work together to coordinate shoulder movement and keep the head of your humerus in your shoulder socket. These muscles are: the supraspinatus, infraspinatus, teres minor, and subscapularis.
Any action that involves lifting or lowering your arm, rotating or extending your shoulder, or rotating your arm engages your rotator cuff.
If these sound like motions you rely on for everyday simple tasks, you would be right. They’re also necessary in baseball. The repetitive movements required for baseball are a common cause of rotator cuff tears, especially the motion of overhead throwing, which is why pitchers are especially prone to this injury.
Rotator cuff tears are either partial thickness, when one or more muscles becomes “frayed,” or full thickness, when there is a complete break in the tendon or the tendon is separated from the bone. A tear can happen from simple repetitive wear, or from a sudden movement or fall.
You might feel sudden pain that radiates down your arm that is distinct from muscle soreness. You might also not feel any pain but have trouble performing movements that you were able to perform before. Pay attention to signs of weakness or popping when you move your arm.
- Labral Tear
A labral tear might be referred to as a SLAP tear, which stands for Superior Lesion, Anterior to Posterior. This is the most common baseball-related labral tear.
Your labrum is a protective ring of cartilage and connective tissue around your shoulder socket. Although this structure is close to the muscles in your rotator cuff, both the function of the labrum and injury are distinct from tears in the muscles that make up the rotator cuff.
In a SLAP tear, the top portion of the labrum where it attaches to the bicep tendon is injured, whether it is from repetitive motion (such as in the motions required in pitching) or a sudden direct trauma. Note that the labrum can tear in other locations as well, and imaging tests will be required to make a proper diagnosis.
There are four main types of SLAP tears, but the most common is the Type 2. A Type 2 SLAP tear involves complete detachment of the labrum and bicep tendon from the end of the shoulder blade.
Pay attention to pain during shoulder movements and lifting, as well as changes in range of motion. You might experience clicking or shoulder “catching” as a result of a labral tear, as well as dead arm symptoms.
- UCL Tear
Your ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) connects the inside of your humerus to your ulna. In other words, it connects your upper arm to your lower arm.
The UCL is not a muscle itself, but does support overhead arm use and throwing.
A UCL tear is another injury that is usually caused by repeated wear and tear, but can also be caused by sudden trauma. Pitchers are especially prone to UCL tears because of the repeated throwing motions needed for the position.
You might feel a gradual onset of pain along the inside of your elbow, or feel a sudden “pop” sensation after throwing. You might also feel pain just prior to the act of releasing the ball. Notice tingling or numbness in your pinky or ring fingers, as well as differences in control of your pitches.
Note that this injury falls under the umbrella term “Thrower’s elbow,” which encompasses damage to the bones, muscles, tendons, and ligaments around the elbow. Imaging tests are needed to make a proper diagnosis.
- ACL Tear
Your anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) forms an X shape with your posterior cruciate ligament (PCL) in back of your knee to stabilize it and control the “back and forth” motion of your lower leg.
Your ACL prevents your lower leg from sliding forward - think about how you can only extend your knee so far until it locks.
Unlike repetitive strain injuries, injury to your ACL is most likely to happen when running and coming to a complete stop, changing direction suddenly, or landing on flexed knees. Direct trauma can also cause an ACL tear.
An ACL tear won’t sneak up on you. You’ll feel acute pain and might hear a “popping” noise, as well as have difficulty supporting your weight.
Female players are more likely to experience ACL damage due to differences in bone anatomy and muscle contraction, as well as hormonal fluctuations that affect ligament elasticity.
- MCL Tear
Your medial collateral ligament (MCL) is a band of tissue that connects your femur to your tibia and runs along the inside of the knee. This ligament holds your thighbone and shinbone together and prevents your leg from extending too far inward. It also stabilizes your knee and allows it to rotate.
While an MCL tear usually happens from direct impact to the outer side of the knee and is therefore not a common injury specific to baseball, it sometimes tears along with the ACL and is therefore worth mentioning.
If you are running and stop or turn suddenly and you feel acute pain, you won’t necessarily know whether you’ve torn both ligaments. Imaging tests will be required to make a proper diagnosis and determine treatment.
- Contact Injuries
Just because baseball isn’t a contact sport doesn’t mean that players aren’t at risk for contact injuries. In fact, some of the most serious injuries can involve contact with a baseball bat, baseball, or other players.
In addition to sprains and strains, players can suffer from fractures and concussions. Fractured fingers, hands, and wrists are the most common types of fractures and can happen to any playing position. Catchers are the most at-risk for concussions due to impact with an incoming ball.
How to Prevent Injuries in Baseball
Since most of the injuries in baseball are related to repetition and overuse, it’s important to emphasize rest in training. Improper form and fatigue will both contribute to an increased risk of repetitive strain injury.
Players who throw a high number of pitches per game and don’t rest in between games are at increased risk of injury. It’s important not to “tough it out” and pitch through arm fatigue. Once fatigue compromises proper form, stop. Don’t pitch year round - take a few months off, and don’t pitch on consecutive days. Don’t play catcher after pitching, and avoid playing for multiple teams at the same time.
Fatigue is influenced by many factors outside of physical activity. Make sure you are getting adequate nutrition and sleep before practice and games.
Take the time to learn proper form and utilize strength training exercises for the upper extremities, as muscle weakness will make injury more likely. Warm up and stretch major muscle groups before practice and games. Consider cross-training in a different sport in baseball’s offseason to avoid overuse. Don’t get ahead of yourself and try to reach your fitness goals in too short a time, as you will set yourself up for injury due to improper form and/or strain.
All equipment should fit properly. Make sure that your shoes fit well and have cleats.
Pay attention to your body and notice discomfort. There is a difference between muscle soreness and pain - don’t ignore pain. Having a high pain tolerance does not mean that the injury is any less severe, and playing through it can prolong recovery. Pain will be sharp at rest or while exercising. Normal muscle soreness will be tender to the touch and tired or burning while exercising, while dull at rest.
If you are noticing changes in pain or mobility, bring it to your coach’s attention to avoid turning a minor injury into a more serious one and increasing downtime. When in doubt, seek medical attention.
I Got Hurt - Now What?
Even with the best preparation, accidents happen. If you get hurt during practice or at a game, remember the acronym RICER.
RICER stands for Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation, and Referral. Follow these steps to help provide initial pain relief, as well as prevent further damage.
Rest: Immobilize the injured body part to avoid further damage to the muscle, tendon, or ligament. Don’t put any weight on the injured body part.
Ice: A cold pack will help reduce inflammation and numb pain. Do not apply ice directly to the skin - wrap it in a towel and apply it to the affected area for 20 minutes every 2 hours.
Compression: Compression can help reduce bleeding and swelling, but make sure to avoid wrapping it too tight. Use a compression bandage on clean, dry skin, and wrap in using a spiral technique. When wrapping around a joint, use a figure 8 technique.
Elevation: Raise the injured body part to reduce bleeding and swelling. Consider placing it on an elevated surface for comfort.
Referral: Get a referral to a qualified health professional so that you can receive a proper diagnosis, as well as treatment instructions. Many of the soft tissue injuries common to baseball cannot be confirmed by a simple physical evaluation and will require imaging by a medical professional.
Avoid taking advice from people who are not qualified to give it, even if you trust them. Although this advice is well-meaning, it could delay or prevent full recovery. In a worst case scenario, it could worsen your injury.
Once you are evaluated and properly diagnosed by a medical professional, take follow-up care seriously. While it may be tempting to cut corners to get back in training and on the field as quickly as possible, this could ruin your progress and land yourself back at square one. Follow all post-surgery instructions, focus on physical therapy, and attend all follow-up appointments.
Don’t let a preventable injury keep you from playing the sport you love. By taking training seriously both on and off the field, you can maximize your time spent perfecting your game. Play ball!
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