All September 16, 2022

Top 5 injuries in baseball

Why they happen and what to do about it

Compared to many sports, baseball is known for its slower pace and long duration.

Despite the less than hard-hitting action of a football game, baseball can place a lot of strain on the body.

And although typically a low-intensity sport, the repetitive movement in playing baseball can lead to annoying at best and critical at worst overuse injuries.

These days an MLB pitcher, for example, throws about 95 pitches per game. In comparison, an official Little League pitch count for ages 9-10 is 75 pitches.

That’s a lot of pitches in a year!

Position players, too, get their share of high volume throwing, plus hitting and base running. Game after game, this adds up to lots of repetition.

So, despite its slower pace, baseball takes a toll on the body – upper and lower body.

Let's take a look at some of the most common baseball injuries due to overuse.

Rotator cuff tears

Rotator cuff tears are prevalent in baseball, especially with players who do a lot of high-speed throwing, like pitchers.

The rotator cuff is made up of four muscles that work together to help rotate your shoulder and arm away from and toward the body. Think of a hinge. The cuff is the part that sits at the top of the shoulder.

Animated rotator cuff illustration

The act of pitching over and over, game after game, season after season can wear down the tendons that attach the muscles. This leads to a breakdown in the shoulder's movement, which can lead to muscle tearing.

If diagnosed before a tear, this injury can be helped with physical therapy. But if the muscle is fully torn, surgery will likely be needed.

UCL injuries

There's a ligament on the inside of the elbow called the ulnar collateral ligament, UCL for short. This is a stabilizing ligament and the one most commonly injured of the various elbow ligaments.

Known in sports circles as the Tommy John ligament, this little ligament can take a beating with the stress that throwing places on it. And there’s an alarming number of young athletes we’re treating for UCL injuries.

Watch our video: What is Tommy John Surgery and who’s at risk for an elbow injury.

Play the accessible version of the “What is Tommy John Surgery and who's at risk for an elbow injury - Your Questions, Our Experts” video

Inner elbow pain is one of the tell-tale symptoms that something's not right. It may have a "pins and needles" type of feeling in the ring and pinky fingers, which can impact an athlete's grip on the ball.

Most cases can be fixed with rest and physical therapy.

However, full and partial tears of the UCL may require reconstructive surgery (Tommy John Surgery), as for pitching namesake Tommy John.

Labral tears

This is another injury that impacts the shoulder.

The labrum is a rubbery, flexible tissue that helps keep the shoulder socket tight. Picture a gasket that seals the space between two adjoining items. But because it is a soft tissue, it can tear.

Illustration of tear at top portion of shoulder labrum tissue

In baseball, this type of tear can be caused by the overuse with repeated motion. This injury typically presents with the shoulder joint locking up or weakness of the shoulder.

A labral tear is typically confirmed by a doctor. Depending on severity, it can be either repaired surgically or helped with professional physical therapy and time off the field to recover.

Knee injuries

Although less common than with higher-intensity sports, like basketball and football, knee injuries are part of baseball.

They happen most with base running. The sudden stopping, sliding and quick pivots in direction can cause a player's knee to give out.

Sprains and tears of the ligaments supporting the knee are painful.

One of the most devastating lower body injuries is an ACL tear. Injury to this ligament typically happens with sudden, excruciating pain and the sensation of popping or cracking in the knee.

Similar to UCL injuries, an ACL injury can sometimes be healed with specialized physical therapy and rest. But in cases of a fully torn ACL, surgery will likely sideline play for a few months.

Muscle sprains and strains

Like the other baseball injuries we've covered here, muscle sprains and strains are a biggie.

These types of injuries are common in the legs, arms and back.

Symptoms will vary based on the player and the seriousness of the injury, but typical symptoms include:

  • Pain
  • Weakness
  • Muscle spasms

They may also include bruising and swelling.

It's rare for these to require surgery. Professional physical therapy and the RICE method (rest, ice, compression, elevation) are effective.

With sports injuries like we've covered here, a common theme is that working with a physical therapist can help with healing.

Physical therapy can also help with pre- and post-surgical intervention if necessary.

If you have an injury, you can get an injury screening at one of our centers. A personalized treatment and exercise plan with a licensed physical therapist will help get you back to your sport.