Dr. Stephen Fealy, Orthopaedic Surgery/Sports Medicine Consultant for the Major League Baseball Players Association, answers readers’ questions on common baseball injuries in light of the upcoming MLB playoffs.
Q1. What are the most common injuries you see from baseball players?
The most common injuries in baseball players are soft tissue injuries – which differs from football, where you see more broken or torn ligaments. Most of the injuries occur earlier in the season and are mainly oblique and tendon injuries (such as a pulled hamstring), which can occur when a player sprints to first base. Traumatic injuries are rare.
Q2. What are some things baseball players can do mid-season to help ensure they stay healthy for post-season?
Baseball has one of the longest seasons in all sports – to get through it completely healthy is a challenge. Eccentric stretching can help minimize strains for hamstrings and obliques. These techniques actually originate from Nordic cross country skiing literature but can be applied to baseball.
Q3. How should baseball players adjust their training as they look to October?
If you’ve made it this far without injury, you shouldn’t change your routine. The only thing different about October is potentially the weather so be more aware of temperature changes. In colder weather, be sure to incorporate more pre-game stretching and warm-ups.
Q4. How can pitchers prevent overuse of their arm?
There’s always a lot of talk about the absolute limit, especially for young pitchers, but it is a complicated situation. No one has figured out the “magic number” whether it is a pitch count or number of innings pitched that a young pitcher should go in one season. Treating athletes delicately is a relatively new phenomenon in sports – pitchers total pitch counts are much lower than they were a few decades ago. We’re currently working on some research at Hospital for Special Surgery to determine if it is a hard number of pitches or instead mechanics that show when a pitcher should be shut down. We’re evaluating high school players and looking at mechanics such as when their pelvis drops or their arm angle is about to drop. These subtle changes could be the indication of a pitcher wearing down instead of just looking at the pitch counter.
Q5. What can catchers do to protect their knees as they may be asked to catch every postseason game?
Unfortunately, the nature of the position puts strain on catchers’ knees regardless. There are products such as “knee savers” which aim to reduce stress on knees because of its design. Physical trainers are recommending continued core strength (such as yoga) for all baseball players. For catchers specifically, a constant squat can lead to a weak core since the legs are being forced to do more work. A stronger core would take some of the strain off the knees and legs.