Now that spring is underway, baseball is starting up. The Major League Baseball season opener is next week, and little league, high school, and college baseball has been going on as well. Injuries can happen from the little league all the way up to the major league, so it’s important to be aware of the most common injuries so that you can spot them in yourself or your child and get the proper treatment.
Rotator Cuff Tears
Rotator cuff tears are very common in baseball players, particularly pitchers. The rotator cuff is a network of four muscles that come together as tendons to form a covering around the head of the upper arm bone. Repetitive shoulder motions, such as baseball pitching, can cause the tendons to wear down over time, eventually resulting in a tear.
Rotator cuff tears can cause pain in the affected shoulder, particularly when lying on it. There may also be pain with certain arm movements, such as lifting or lowering, and the shoulder may also be weak. Sometimes, there may be a crackling sensation when moving the arm. In some minor cases, a rotator cuff tear may heal with nonsurgical treatment, but surgery is often needed to repair the tear and restore full strength and function within the shoulder.
The ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) is another area that is commonly injured in baseball pitchers. The UCL acts as a stabilizer for the elbow, preventing the joint from bending sideways, and is often stressed with repetitive throwing motions. A UCL injury can cause pain and tenderness on the inner portion of the elbow. The elbow may also feel stiff, making it difficult to fully straighten the arm. In some cases, a UCL injury can cause numbness or tingling in the ring and little finger, and grip strength may be affected.
In some cases, a UCL injury can be treated with nonsurgical methods. However, if elbow instability continues, surgery may be needed.
Knee Injuries (ACL and MCL)
The anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) and the medial collateral ligament (MCL) are two of the ligaments that help to stabilize the knee. Knee injuries can happen when running from base to base, such as when making a sudden stop while running, landing on a flexed knee, or twisting the knee with the foot planted.
ACL and MCL injuries often cause sudden, severe pain; a loud popping or snapping sensation may be felt as the injury happens. There may also be swelling and a feeling of looseness in the joint, and it may be difficult to put weight on the knee without severe pain. Mild to moderate ACL and MCL injuries may heal with nonsurgical methods. However, if the ACL or MCL is torn, surgery may be needed to rebuild the torn ligament.
Muscle Sprains and Strains
Sprains and strains are common sports injuries, often the result of overuse. In baseball, sprains and strains are common in the legs, arms, and back. In some cases, the muscles or ligaments will be overstretched, while in others the ligament may be partially or completely torn.
Symptoms will vary based on the severity of the injury, but may include pain, muscle spasms, and muscle weakness. There may also be bruising, swelling, or inflammation in the injured area. Sprains and strains rarely require surgery; unless the muscle or ligament is severely torn, the injury can usually be treated with rest, ice, compression, and elevation.
Pitching and swinging a baseball bat can put pressure on the lower back. This pressure can sometimes result in a fracture to one of the vertebrae, a condition known as spondylolysis. Spondylolysis often feels similar to a muscle strain, with pain spreading across the lower back. If left untreated, spondylolysis can progress to a more serious condition called spondylolisthesis. With spondylolisthesis, the fractured vertebra slips out of place and may begin to press on nearby nerves. Spondylolisthesis can cause back spasms, tightening both the back and hamstring muscles.
In many cases of spondylolysis, rest, physical therapy, and anti-inflammatory medications are all that is needed. However, if the vertebra continues to slip out of place, spinal fusion surgery may be needed to stabilize the spine.
Now that we’ve discussed common baseball injuries, we’ll discuss how to prevent them. Stay tuned for our next post!