Don’t let baseball injuries throw a curveball into your time on the ball field. We interviewed Dr. Benjamin Thompson, a Board Certified Orthopaedic Surgeon here at Access Sports Medicine, and got his insight into the most common baseball injuries, as well as his best practices for staying safe all season long.
Q. Baseball season is in full swing, Dr. Thompson! Who are you rooting for?
Dr. Thompson: I grew up just south of Boston, so I am a lifelong Red Sox fan.
Q. Tell us about your experience serving as a team doctor for the University of West Florida. How’d you land that role? What did you learn from that collective experience?
Dr. Thompson: I did my sports fellowship at the Andrews Institute in Gulf Breeze, Florida. We took care of athletes of all ages as part of our training. I spent time with the UWF Baseball Team, the Auburn Football Team, and multiple high schools in Northwest Florida and Southern Alabama.
Q. I understand you all won a National Championship—undoubtedly due to the exemplary care those players received!
Dr. Thompson: Undoubtedly, that helped, but I will give the athletes credit for this one.
Q. Can you fill us in on the common injuries you see in dealing with ballplayers extending themselves on the diamond?
Dr. Thompson: The most common things that I see in the office associated with baseball are shoulder and elbow issues. Overtraining continues to be the biggest problem in youth baseball, and growth plate injuries are endemic in this population. Little leaguers’ shoulders and elbows are two of the more common issues that we treat. Happily, these are rarely surgical in nature, but they do require proper time periods of shutdown paired with progressive strengthening through therapy, followed by a gradual return to play under the watchful eyes of a trainer, coach, and doctor.
Q. Pitcher’s elbow is one that many people are familiar with. How can a player work to prevent pitcher’s elbow? Has the implementation of the “pitch count” helped reduce injury at all?
Dr. Thompson: Children have a soft growth plate in their inner elbow that bears much of the strain from the muscles during a throwing motion. As they grow, the growth plate hardens to form bone. But while it’s soft, too much throwing can irritate and inflame the growth plate or even cause it to fracture, which can lead to conditions such as Little Leaguer’s Elbow. The same forces from overthrowing, which put the growth plate at risk before growth plate closure, can ultimately lead to ulnar collateral ligament damage as the athlete continues their career. This ligament damage often requires surgical intervention and up to a year of rigorous rehabilitation to allow the athlete to get back on the field.
Setting limits to the number of pitches thrown and avoiding breaking balls until puberty are just two methods to reduce the risk of injury, but it’s not always that simple. Year-round conditioning and proper mechanics are crucial for youth athletes who want to have a long career. While Little Leaguer’s Elbow and ulnar collateral ligament injuries are mostly associated with pitchers, catchers are also at risk due to their high number of throws each game. Coaches should be mindful of players who play more than one position. A pitcher may be held to a safe amount of pitches in one game but may come back and play shortstop or third base in the next game, positions that don’t allow much rest for the arm.
Since the best treatment for Little Leaguer’s Elbow is rest, year-round baseball can make matters worse. Coaches need to be willing to take kids out of the game if they complain of arm pain. Players may have to stop throwing altogether until the pain and inflammation are gone, and if a condition becomes severe enough, players may need to shut down their throwing for six weeks or more before slowly working their way back into the game. Injured players should become part of a rehabilitation program that stops at the first sign of pain. Playing through arm pain will only cause further damage.
Q. In general, what are ways baseball players can better position themselves to prevent injury when they’re on the field? Conditioning? Diet? Any secret stretching tips you swear by?
Dr. Thompson: Conditioning and flexibility are key components of injury prevention in all sports. Whether you are a baseball pitcher, catcher, or field player, maintaining a healthy weight and engaging in baseball and core strengthening programs can help prevent injuries and prolong careers. Throwers tend to develop increased external rotation and loss of internal rotation, which can have consequences for the rotator cuff and the labrum. A Sleeper stretch can help improve the shoulder’s mechanics and prevent this.
Q. How many bags of sunflower seeds have you gone through in your lifetime?
Dr. Thompson: I used to go through at least two to three bags of the dill pickle ones each game when I covered the Pawsox in residency.
Thank you for all the wonderful information on baseball injury awareness, Dr. Thompson. This great advice will go a long way in keeping all of our baseball players healthy and safe throughout the season!
Don’t strikeout with an injury this season
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