Gear Up for Spring Training: 7 Tips for Preventing Baseball and Softball Injuries
Pitchers and catchers are reporting for duty and the first spring training games begin in February. It’s only natural that we start thinking of the Great American Pastime: Baseball!
If you play for a local team, social league, or if you’re the parent of a little slugger, chances are your thoughts also turn to preventing baseball injuries.
Whether you play baseball or softball, the rules and risks are quite similar. Softball uses a smaller field, shorter bats, and underhand pitches, but ultimately balls are still moving at a similar velocity, you’re still running bases, and occasionally (hopefully) sliding into home. Preventing softball injuries and baseball injuries require an analogous approach.
So, how do you keep your little leaguer (or yourself) protected from injury?
1. FOLLOW THE RULES OF THE GAME
Common sense tells us to follow the rules of any game or sport, for a good reason—preventing injury and staying safe. Many baseball and softball injuries occur when someone throws the bat, crosses over the safety barriers, or does something that doesn’t coincide with the rules of the game.
Getting upset with an umpire or taking off your helmet when you’re frustrated may seem like a natural reaction, but the truth is, it also sets you up for injury. Encourage your little leaguers to keep their cool, listen to coaches, and use their team spirit and sportsmanship. Stay alert and stay safe; always remain aware of your surroundings. And most importantly, keep your eye on the ball!
2. COVER YOUR HEAD, ESPECIALLY AT BAT
Baseball helmets protect a batter’s head, ears, and face from injury. Even in slow-pitch softball, a hit ball has enough velocity to cause a concussion or serious injury. Wearing shin guards, elbow guards, and other protective gear is also good practice, especially in fast-pitch games.
On the same note, catchers’ gear is mandatory for any team at any level. The catcher stands behind the batter with pitches headed directly their way, so proper equipment is the first line of defense for preventing baseball injuries.
3. SLIDE SAFELY (OR OMIT SLIDING ALTOGETHER)
Many of the most common baseball and softball related injuries are ankle injuries that occur during fast stops (to prevent overrunning the base), dynamic side-to-side movement, and of course, the famous baseball slide. In a study of slow-pitch softball injuries, 42% of athletes were injured while sliding to a base, with most of those slides happening foot first.
The best way to prevent slide-related injuries is to use safe slide techniques taught by coaches. Players can also avoid injury by using quick-release bases (rather than anchored bases, which cause players to collide with the base), or by removing the slide as an option for play.
4. WARM-UP AND STRETCH BEFORE A GAME
Warming up and stretching is essential to prepare for any dynamic movement. In baseball and softball, players are often swinging with all their might, sprinting to bases at full speed, and then sitting on the bench between their time at-bat. In the outfield, players may see action sporadically, depending on the position they play.
Keep your body primed for movement by warming up with light cardio or a walk before the game. Stretch and stay active and limber for every inning of the game. This will help you stay ready for any plays that come your way. It can also help you avoid muscle pulls and discomfort from sudden sprints.
5. LACE UP YOUR CLEATS
Proper footwear is another requirement for any game or athletic endeavor, and softball and baseball are no exception to this rule. While it may feel like overkill to put on cleats for your weekly tavern league softball game, it’s essential for preventing softball injuries.
Cleats help grip the dirt along the baseline, so you get solid footing with every step. Missteps, trips, and falls are a significant cause of injury, especially among weekend warriors and softball newbies. Run in a good pair of softball cleats and, not only will you reduce your risk of softball injury, but you’ll also likely feel a huge difference in your comfort and speed during the game.
6. HYDRATE AND REST AFTER A BIG RUN
Hydration and rest are essential after any athletic feat, including softball and baseball. When you drink plenty of water, you replace the fluid you lose through sweating. Water helps you avoid the effects of heat, especially as baseball season moves into the warmer summer months. Dehydration causes a decrease in athletic and cognitive performance, with even minor dehydration causing you to feel “off your game.”
Similarly, proper sleep and nourishment are crucial for peak athletic performance. During rest, your body can build and repair muscle tissue. You’ll feel more energetic and alert during gameplay if you prioritize hydration, sleep, and nutrition.
7. STAY ACTIVE BETWEEN GAMES
Keep your body ready for action by staying active during the off-season and even in between games. If you play softball weekly or join in a pickup game once in a while, it’s important to keep up on your physical fitness when you’re off the field.
Incorporate strength-building activities, like weight lifting or HIIT (high intensity interval training), to ensure you are ready to hit homers with ease. Cardio is important as well—you don’t want to feel winded on your way to the outfield or during your trip around the bases. Make physical fitness and exercise a regular habit to prevent injury during baseball and softball games.
Finally, should you sustain an injury during a game, it’s important not to wait it out or “play through the pain.” Muscle strains and minor injuries will often feel better with rest, ice, compression, and elevation, also known as the treatment protocol “RICE.” For injuries lasting more than a day or two, or causing significant discomfort, seek the advice of a professional.
At the Orthopaedic Hospital of Wisconsin, our team of professionals is ready to assist you with your sports injury. Contact us today to schedule a consultation with our physical therapy or orthopedic team. Request an appointment online or call 414-961-6800. We’ll get you back in the game in no time!