Summer is in full swing, and that means baseball season is too! The crack of the bat, the pop of the ball in the glove, and…the torn labrums, strained muscles, tendonitis, and many other injuries. Unfortunately, as much as people love playing sports like baseball, there is a realistic chance that they will sustain an injury on the field of play.
Most are generally pretty minor and are easily treatable with rest, ice, or non-prescription pain medication. Every now and then, however, a serious injury can occur. We’ll take a look at some of the most common baseball injuries and how to best treat them.
Rotator Cuff Injuries
The shoulder is a complex joint, and at the heart of it is the rotator cuff, which is a set of tendons and muscles that provide stability in the shoulder. If you’ve already heard of rotator cuff injuries, it’s probably because of baseball. Why? Because anyone who throws a ball–especially pitchers–are very vulnerable to these injuries.
How It Can Happen: Many times (especially at more casual levels of play), rotator cuff injuries can be attributed to a lack of warm-up or stretching. For more experienced players, it’s the stress and repetition of movement in the shoulder that begins to wear the rotator cuff down, leaving it more susceptible to injury. Age can also play a factor.
Symptoms: Shoulder pain is usually a good indicator, as is swelling and arm weakness. If there is a full tear of the tissue, however, you may not be able to properly rotate your shoulder at all. A rotator cuff tear is a devastating injury to a baseball player, as it is most certainly a season-ender…but also potentially a career-ender.
Treatment: For minor rotator cuff injuries, the RICE method (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation) can alleviate the pain and swelling, but physical therapy is often the most successful approach to these injuries. At Physical Therapy NOW in Irving, for example, we would customize an exercise program to your shoulder pain so you can regain strength and restore flexibility. More serious rotator cuff injuries could require injections or surgery, followed by PT to help the shoulder recover.
Ulnar Collateral Ligament Injury
If you’re familiar with “Tommy John surgery”, you know what an ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) injury is. We’ll get to Mr. John in a moment, because that involves a serious injury.
How It Can Happen: Most baseball-related UCL injuries are fairly minor and are caused by repeated stress from throwing. The UCL stabilizes the inner elbow, and with continued stress, it can result in weakened ligaments and even tears in the tissue. If, however, the UCL becomes torn, surgery is often necessary to repair the ligament.
Symptoms: Those with a UCL injury will typically feel pain in the elbow that grows worse over time. Attempts to throw often prove difficult because the pain causes a decrease in throwing control as well as speed. Many times, baseball players will know immediately that they’ve suffered a UCL injury because they experience a popping sensation in the elbow, and then immediate and significant pain.
Treatment: Similar to a rotator cuff injury, if the UCL injury is relatively minor, the RICE treatment as well as physical therapy can help ease the pain and build up the area around the elbow to help prevent further injury. A major tear, however, often requires UCL reconstruction, which is better known to sports fans as Tommy John surgery. Tommy John was a pitcher for the Los Angeles Dodgers, New York Yankees, and other teams, who first underwent the procedure in 1974. The surgery uses a ligament from either another part of the body or from a cadaver to reconstruct the joint. While the recovery is long, many players today often come back as good–if not better–than ever after the surgery.
Another common baseball injury is a torn labrum in the shoulder. The labrum is cartilage that surrounds the shallow socket of the shoulder joint, and it keeps the bones in place while providing shoulder stability.
How It Can Happen: As with many other baseball injuries on this list, a torn labrum can be the result of repeated throwing and pitching as the motions put stress on the cartilage. The repeated motions can cause the cartilage to fray and then tear. Another way (though far less likely) a labrum can become torn is from violent impact to the shoulder joint.
Symptoms: The fraying and tearing of the labrum leads to shoulder pain, swelling, weakness, and a feeling of instability in the joint.
Treatment: More often than not, non-surgical treatment can heal a labrum injury. Your doctor may recommend over-the-counter pain medications, a pain-relieving injection, and physical therapy to strengthen the shoulder joint and restore the proper range of motion. Severe injuries and tears may require surgery, followed by a lengthy rehab and course of physical therapy.
There are many forms of tendonitis because there are many tendons in the body. For baseball players, this injury often occurs in the wrist, forearm, shoulder, and biceps areas. Tendonitis is the inflammation or irritation of a tendon, the thick fibrous cords that attach muscle to bone.
How It Can Happen: While tendonitis can sometimes result from a specific, sudden injury, it’s usually a condition that surfaces because of repetition of movement–such as throwing–that stresses the tendons. Tendonitis can also be caused by improper technique, whether the action is sports- or work-related.
Symptoms: Any symptoms of tendonitis–which can include tenderness, mild swelling, and pain (often a dull ache)–tend to occur at the point where a tendon attaches to the bone.
Treatment: Self-care and physical therapy are almost always the best treatments for tendonitis pain. Anti-inflammatory, OTC pain medications are generally effective, as are some topical creams that include anti-inflammatory medication. The RICE method is often used for tendonitis pain as well. As for PT, what’s called eccentric strengthening has proven to be quite effective in treating tendonitis; this method emphasizes muscle contraction while it’s lengthening, which helps stretch and strengthen the muscle and tendon. To avoid future tendon pain, take the time to stretch, strengthen your muscles, improve ergonomics where possible, rest, and be sure you’re using proper technique in whatever you’re doing.
Knee Injuries and Tears
If it wasn’t for sports, most of us may not have ever heard of an ACL or MCL tear. Unfortunately, those knee injuries (and many others) are common occurrences for baseball players and athletes in general. The knee is a very complex joint that takes on a lot of stress from sports. And, like any other joint, the more stress that’s involved, the more likely the joint is to become injured. Of course, sudden injuries often occur in sports, but often it’s the wear and tear that eventually lead to a serious injury.
With the knee, the most frequent injuries are tears and ruptures of the various ligaments that stabilize and cushion the knee–these included the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), medial collateral ligament (MCL), posterior cruciate ligament (PCL), and the lateral collateral ligament (LCL). Of course, there are many, many other injuries involving other parts of the knee, such as the patellar tendon, meniscus, bursa sac, and kneecap, just to name a few.
How It Can Happen: As mentioned above, knee injuries are often the result of chronic wear and tear. Occasionally (and this is what you sometimes see in baseball and other sports), a sudden injury can cause a serious knee issue such as a ligament tear–and while a violent blow to the knee can certainly cause that type of injury, ligament tears are often non-contact injuries where the knee simply gives out or hyperextends.
Symptoms: No matter the type of knee injury, you’ll likely experience varying levels of pain, swelling, redness, and tenderness while struggling to put weight on the leg/knee and experiencing difficulty bending the knee.
Treatment: Because of the complicated nature of knee injuries, as well as the varying levels of severity, there are several types of treatments available. However, before beginning any on your own, it’s best to see a doctor so your injury can be examined and diagnosed and the right course of treatment can be planned. For minor injuries such as sprains or tendonitis, rest/ice/compression/elevation is usually effective, as is physical therapy that can stretch and strengthen the knee area. OTC pain medication can also help. For more serious injuries, surgery may be necessary–but in some instances, physical therapy before the surgery may be prescribed to alleviate swelling before the procedure. And because the knee is such a tricky joint, PT is almost always prescribed post-surgery as part of the rehab process.
Don’t Let Baseball Injuries Shut You Down
At Physical Therapy NOW in Irving, we see all types of sports-related injuries, including common baseball injuries. Our experienced team knows how to get you back on your feet–and on the field–quickly and safely. After you’ve seen your doctor, call us at (214) 225-0291 to set up your initial appointment. We’ll examine your injury and work with you to create the perfect treatment plan.