Weekend Warrior: Tips for avoiding baseball and softball injuries
Major League Baseball’s 2022 season begins this week and that means many amateur baseball and softball players will be inspired to hit the field too. Some recreational leagues filled with young to middle-age, former all-everything athletes battling for trophies, cash prizes, or just bragging rights have already gotten under way.
However, many athletes forget that as they get older it takes more work to keep the body tuned up for strenuous activity – particularly when it comes to playing the sports they competed in collegiately or in high school.
Oftentimes, not keeping our bodies in top-notch condition can lead to serious injuries in recreational sports such as baseball and softball.
Kristofer Jones, MD, orthopaedic surgeon at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center and head team physician for the Los Angeles Lakers, talked about what athletes can do to decrease risk of injury while competing on the diamond.
“Unfortunately, many of us fall victim to the weekend warrior mentality. We work hard all week and try to compress or make up for lost time on the weekends by engaging in physical activity that our bodies may not be accustomed to handling,” explained Dr. Jones. “As the recreational baseball/softball season begins and people find themselves participating in ‘America’s pastime,’ my most helpful advice would be to find time to dedicate to a core strengthening program to help avoid injuries.”
How strengthening the core can prevent injury on the ballfield
The body’s core is more than just the abdominals, as most people mistakenly think. The core actually includes the pelvis, hips, lower back, mid back, neck and chest, as well as the abdominals. The primary functions of the core are to stabilize the spine and keep it from bearing too much weight, helping to transfer weight between the lower and upper body.
Dr. Jones said a core exercise program can help build a solid foundation of strength, which can prevent increased stress on the upper and lower extremities. Having a weak core could result in a person relying too much on their shoulders or arms when throwing a ball or swinging a bat, for instance, resulting in injuries to the shoulders and arms.
Older adult athletes should be cautious
Amateur athletes and professional athletes often suffer injuries for different reasons. Professional athletes take part in rigorous off-season programs and training camps which keep them in athletic form and ready once the regular season begins.
Few amateur athletes commit to such off-season conditioning programs, so their bodies are not as primed when the season starts.
“While injuries in professional athletes tend to be the result of overuse secondary to prolonged, repetitive participation in a certain sport, this isn’t the case with recreational athletes,” said Dr. Jones. “With long periods of inactivity interspersed with short amounts of vigorous physical activity, we place ourselves at risk for various injuries due to the introduction of load/stress that our body is not accustomed to.”
Common injuries among adult amateur baseball and softball players
Older adult athletes are predisposed to tendon injuries due to age-related structural changes, Dr. Jones explained.
“In general, we refer to these injuries as ‘tendinopathy,’ which is a pathologic condition characterized by a degenerative process that affects collagen – a component of tendons that provides structural integrity,” he said.
A common injury in professional baseball is the torn ulnar collateral ligament, which may require surgery. The injury often stems from overuse or repetitive stress from throwing. Amateur athletes, however, rarely experience this injury because they don’t play in as many games and the seasons are much shorter.
Psychology of the amateur athlete
Most recreational baseball and softball players are former athletes who once played in high school or college. Some might have even had ambitions of playing professionally. It is likely that the love of the sport has not left them, so they join amateur leagues to feed their desire to continue competing.
As former competitive athletes get older, however, they tend to disregard the fact that they are more prone to injuries. Dr. Jones says the longer an athlete plays a sport, the harder it can be for him or her to let it go.
“The psychology of sports is a fascinating topic. Inherently, people who play sports at a high level are quite competitive and they derive a sense of identity from playing for such a long period of time,” explained Dr. Jones. “It can be very difficult to stop participating in an activity that at one point in your life was important to who you were as an individual.”
Dr. Jones said we don’t have to abandon our desires to play baseball, basketball, soccer, or any other recreational sport as we age. We do, however, need to listen to our bodies and adapt to what our bodies can tolerate when we are participating in physical activity.
“I encourage my patients to play sports, but instead of participating three to four times per week, perhaps consider mixing in other activities that place a different load or stress on the body to help avoid injury,” he said.
What else can amateur athletes do to best avoid injury?
Consult with your physician
Before jumping into a recreational league, amateur athletes should consult with their physician, especially if they’ve had a previous injury.
“If you have a preexisting musculoskeletal injury, elbow tendonitis, knee arthritis, or a chronic ligament injury, it would be wise to consult with a sports medicine physician to determine if a brace or other supplemental gear would be useful to support the body in a way that avoids exacerbation of that injury,” Dr. Jones said.
Take care of your body
Dr. Jones said functional and sport-specific training decreases the risk of injury. If an athlete trains their body in a way that is specific to the sport they are participating in, then the body will respond when the demand arises.
Baseball and softball players in recreational leagues should be participating in batting practices, throwing drills and catching drills. However, Dr. Jones advises that those athletes do exercises to strengthen the overall body as well.
“If you have not participated in a sport for a long period of time, it can be quite helpful to begin by incorporating activities that improve neuromuscular control. A collection of activities focusing on things like balance, plyometrics (speed and jumping exercises) and agility can be added to a regular strength and mobility program to provide a nice foundation for reintroducing your body to a sport,” Dr. Jones said.
“In essence, in order to perform like an athlete, you need to train like one.”
If you’re considering joining a baseball or softball league, or becoming a weekend warrior in another sport, please consult with a primary care physician to make sure you’re in the best possible physical condition.