It’s important for both amateurs and professionals to have an understanding of the most common baseball injuries to stay healthy and avoid missing games.
Baseball rarely tops the list of the most dangerous sports. Aside from an occasional bench-clearing brawl, players aren’t usually tackling each other like in football or ramming opponents against the boards causing hockey injuries.
Still, the game can be rough on the body, especially as players advance from little league to high school, college ball, and beyond.
The most common injuries in baseball can range from mild to severe, and even minor ones may keep players at least temporarily out of the game.
On a professional level, whether that’s the big leagues or the minors, players are often playing nearly every single day for long stretches at a time. The sheer wear and tear on the joints and muscles can add up, and often lead to repetitive stress injuries.
For youth and older amateurs, baseball injuries may stem more from poor technique when it comes to skills like sliding, fielding, or hitting.
Finally, at any level, accidents are bound to happen. This may mean collisions with other players, getting hit hard with the ball in either a batting or fielding situation, or suffering sudden bodily trauma from physical exertion.
Understanding how potential baseball injuries occur can help players of all ages and levels decrease their chances of getting hurt or lessen injury-related downtime and speed up healing time.
Here are Some of the Most Common Baseball Injuries
There have been a lot of advances in baseball when it comes to player safety and health. From specialized helmets with face guards to shin and arm padding, having the right equipment is a great way to lessen the impact and likelihood of injury.
Additionally, strength and flexibility training off the field is a necessary element for higher-level players, not just to improve their game, but also to keep their bodies strong and well conditioned.
It’s practically impossible to avoid any injury, though. So, it’s good to know some of the most common baseball injuries.
Baseball shoulder injuries are quite common for players at almost any position and a torn labrum is a classic example.
The cuff of cartilage that surrounds the shallow socket of the shoulder joint is known as the labrum. This soft tissue keeps the bones in place and provides stability.
From windup to release, pitching and throwing motions put a lot of stress on the labrum. Over time, the cartilage will start to fray and tear, leading to swelling, pain in the shoulder, weakness in the shoulder, and a feeling of overall instability in the joint.
Rotator Cuff Injuries
In keeping with the theme of baseball shoulder injuries, a rotator cuff injury is also very common.
The structure of the rotator cuff is a complex set of tendons and muscles that keep the shoulder stable. Again, pitchers are the most vulnerable when it comes to rotator cuff injuries, but every position requires players to throw the ball, which makes everyone vulnerable.
In most cases, insufficient warm-up and stretching can lead to these injuries, but at higher levels of the game, continued stress and repetitive movements wear the rotator cuff down, which makes an injury more likely. Age is also a factor.
Pain in the shoulder is the most common symptom, along with swelling, but with a severe tear in the soft tissue, a player will lose the ability to properly rotate their shoulder.
A rotator cuff tear is usually a season-ending injury, and if not appropriately treated could be a career-ending one too.
Dead Arm (Shoulder Instability)
When shoulder muscles get fatigued and the joint grows unstable, a player will lose the ability to make precision throws, a condition players and trainers often call “dead arm.”
A dead arm injury is typically caused by repeated stress and overuse of the shoulder. Healing may require treatment, like physical therapy, but sometimes it may just be a simple matter of allowing the shoulder to have an extended period of rest.
Ulnar Collateral Ligament (UCL) Injury of the Elbow Requiring Tommy John Surgery
Like with the shoulder, baseball arm injuries can also be problematic for players as seen with the UCL in the elbow.
The Ulnar Collateral Ligament (UCL) stabilizes the inner part of the elbow, which is under repeated stress from any type of throwing motion. This continued stress can lead to weak ligaments and cause tears in the soft tissue.
Symptoms will typically present as pain in the elbow that worsens over time and causes a loss of throwing control and speed. Players can often identify the exact throw that caused the injury because they may have experienced a popping sensation in the elbow, followed by immediate pain.
Major tears usually require UCL reconstruction, a surgical procedure known as Tommy John Surgery, named after – you guessed it – major league pitcher Tommy John who first underwent the procedure in 1974.
Tommy John Surgery uses ligament harvested from another part of the body or a cadaver to reconstruct the joint.
Wrist Tendonitis or Wrist Trauma Injuries
Wrist trauma injuries from an impact can be the result of collisions with another player, the ground, or from a thrown or hit ball.
Baseball pitcher injuries are high up on the list of the most devastating to a team, and Pitchers Elbow is just one example.
Pitcher’s Elbow is caused by chronic damage to the tendons that rotate the wrist toward the palm. This type of baseball injury results in pain and swelling along the inside of the elbow and forearm, making it difficult to practice or play with any kind of efficiency.
The main source of this injury is usually from continued stress and overuse of the tendons during the throwing motion.
Knee Injuries or Tears (ACL, LCL, MCL, PCL)
The knee is a complex joint and it can take a beating in any sport, including baseball.
Like the shoulder, elbow, and wrist, injuries to the knee can be from continued stress, the wear and tear of age, and overuse or sudden, traumatic impact. Any one of these circumstances can lead to tears of the meniscus or the anterior, lateral, posterior, or medial cruciate ligaments.
The fibrous bands in the area are what stabilize and cushion the knee. When these bands develop micro-tears or complete ruptures, a player will typically experience pain, inflammation, and feel as though the knee is unstable and won’t properly support activity.
As with many types of baseball injuries, players at all levels might be tempted to “play through the pain.” But it’s always important to never ignore the symptoms because they can be a sign of serious damage that could potentially become worse with additional exertion.
Having a good grasp on effective baseball injury treatment approaches is a major key to lessening downtime and increasing the speed of healing.
Treatment Methods for Common Baseball Injuries
Treatment approaches for many common baseball injuries will vary depending on the type and severity of the issue.
Although each of the injuries outlined above may require certain specific types of treatment, the therapies listed below are very effective for pain and healing.
1. The RICE Method
RICE stands for Rest, Ice, Compress, and Elevate. This is a conservative method that is recommended for minor bumps, strains, or other issues. RICE is most effective for the first few days after an injury occurs.
While rest gives the injured area time to heal, ice can help reduce inflammation and pain, and compression will support the joint. Whenever possible, elevate the wounded area above the heart.
2. Taping and Strapping
Taping and Strapping helps support the elbow, wrist, ankle, and knee, thereby reducing stress on muscles, joints, and other soft-tissue areas.
Some players regularly tape injury-prone areas before practice and games to keep from causing further strain or injury ahead of time.
3. EPAT Therapy (Shockwave) for Baseball Injuries
Extracorporeal Pulse Activation Technology, known simply as EPAT Therapy, is a painless, noninvasive treatment approach for baseball injuries that accelerates healing.
EPAT Therapy Treatment uses impulse pressure waves that are delivered deep into the tissue and muscles to improve blood flow to the affected area and reduce swelling and inflammation.
This causes no risk of infection or scaring, like with surgery, and EPAT Therapy can often be used by players while they continue to perform without losing any playing time.
Many college and professional teams use EPAT, sometimes referred to as Shockwave Therapy (Extracorporeal Shock Wave Therapy), because it helps players overcome common baseball injuries more quickly.
4. Non-steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Medications
Non-steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Medications are over-the-counter pain medications like Advil or Motrin (ibuprofen) that reduce pain and help decrease inflammation.
In the past, trainers would use steroid injections to reduce serious inflammation and pain, although these are becoming less common because they tend to cause damage to tissue when used too frequently.
5. Physical Therapy
Physical Therapy for baseball injuries can aid in rehabilitation after an injury occurs, and to help prevent new ones from happening or current ones from becoming worse.
There are many forms of physical therapy that can help with stretching and warming up so muscles become limber and less prone to injury. Cooling down is just as important and might involve ice baths, whirlpools, massage, and even cupping therapy.
Physical therapy can be a good way to strengthen an injured area during recovery, as well as learning proper form and techniques to avoid further injury.
A combination of physical therapy and other treatment approaches like EPAT Therapy helps decrease downtime for players so they can get back on the field faster.
6. Surgery for Baseball Injuries
Most players try to avoid surgery for baseball injuries and use the above methods for as long as possible, often with great success.
In the case of severe knee injuries, surgery might be the only solution. And Tommy John Surgery for a UCL injury to the elbow has allowed many pitchers to continue playing instead of retiring.
There is always a risk of infection or side effects with any type of surgery, and players will invariably miss part, or all of a season.
Fortunately, improved training techniques, better equipment, and advanced treatment methods like EPAT Therapy for the most common baseball injuries has allowed players today to recover faster and continue playing longer than previous generations.