There’s A Lot We Don’t Know About Baseball and Softball Injuries

By Dev Mishra, M.D., President, Sideline Sports Doc, Clinical Assistant Professor of Orthopedic Surgery, Stanford University

Key Points:

  • There are likely many factors involved in shoulder and elbow injuries for young throwers
  • The available data suggests that there are steps a young thrower can take now to minimize risk.
  • These steps include: play less than 8 months out of the year; play more than one sport; maintain shoulder motion as close to the non-throwing shoulder as possible; and improve lower extremity and core strength

I’m still thinking back on a recently published study of MRI abnormalities in young baseball players. I wrote about this in a blog post and noted that in this small study 100% of the players had an abnormal shoulder MRI scan if they were single sport athletes and played more than 8 months out of the year. Sure, a larger study will likely show a different percentage but it still should give us all reason to ask: why does this happen?  And why did 74% of young players report some arm pain during play in another study? Is this just the new normal, the physical price paid to play the sport? The data are compelling and a bit scary, but still it’s not easy to connect the dots and identify specific causes of problems. There’s a lot we still don’t know.

There is a lot of outstanding research taking place now, attempting to answer the question: “why”. We’ll likely find that there are several factors that can conspire together to create injury risk, loss of performance, and loss of sport enjoyment. I’d like to highlight a few excellent studies recently published in the journal Sports Health.

Here’s an excellent study that starts to define what the normal pitching motion should look like in a young pitcher. The authors defined ranges for the normal shoulder rotation and elbow load and found interestingly that loads are actually less for curveballs compared to fastballs, and yet current pitching recommendations suggest avoidance of curveballs until around age 14. The culprit may actually be abnormal lower extremity and trunk mechanics in the young pitcher. Possible solutions: lower extremity and core strength should be a conditioning focus for the young thrower.

In another study the authors did a retrospective analysis of previously published data and found that shoulder rotational deficits correlated with risk of shoulder and elbow injuries in early adulthood. These authors feel that with the onset of puberty and the accelerated growth in the young body, it seems that repetitive overhead activity leads to changes in bone shape. Once the young thrower is finished growing the continued repetitive stress in throwing is transmitted to the soft tissues. Possible solution: improve shoulder, elbow, and trunk range of motion with a program such as the Yokohama Baseball-9.Sideline Sports Doc Logo

These and other studies point to the fact that there are multiple factors involved in creating the recipe for upper extremity injury. There’s a lot we still don’t fully understand. But there are reasonable steps any young thrower can take right now to reduce injury risk and maximize sport performance and enjoyment. Play less than 8 months in a year and play more than one sport. Keep shoulder motion as close to the non-throwing shoulder as possible, and keep lower extremity and core strength up.

Stay Safe and Perform Better – ACL Prevention Program

ACL

A couple weeks ago, I got the chance to dust off my golf clubs and go to the driving range. I hit 100 golf balls with four different clubs, and all of them went the same distance. I know that isn’t how it’s supposed to work, but hey, I never said I was good at golf. I just have the dream of hitting a hole in one, so I looked up the odds and it is about a one in 3,500 chance. Given that I can’t hit the ball like a pro, or even a good amateur, my dream will probably never happen, but I’m always going to prepare for the day by striking the ball whenever I get a chance.

From an odds standpoint, one in 3,500 is about .02 percent, which is a long shot, but accounts for approximately 100,000 people this year in the United States. These odds are the same as the possibility of tearing your anterior cruciate ligament (ACL). For the same reasons I go out year after year and practice hoping for a par, I’d encourage you to make a small effort to work on lowering your chances of tearing an ACL with an ACL prevention program.

ACL prevention programs have been created and mixed into teams warm-ups, cool downs and off-season lift programs and have been shown to be helpful. Research shows 75 to 85 percent less ACL injuries happen when athletes are on an ACL program. Programs are usually three-times per week and take about 30 to 45 minutes to perform or, in my experience, about 15 to 20 minutes of additional work onto the normal warm-up and cool down of a team sport. It’s no guarantee that you won’t tear your ACL, but if you can practice for your sport to get better, why not make a small investment in making sure you can potentially avoid a nine- to 12-month rehabilitation process, too?

A simple ACL program looks something like this:

  • Warm-up
  • Jogging – Two minutes forward, two minutes backward and two minutes of side shuffling
  • Stretching – Thirty seconds on each of these muscle groups:
    • Calf
    • Quad
    • Hamstring
    • Groin
    • Glute
    • Hip flexor

This should look similar to a basic high school gym class warm-up.

Agility Drills – During agility drills, look to maintain your balance. Have your knee stay behind your toes and do not allow your knee to sway toward the opposite side of your body.

  • Bend over and touch a ball on the ground in front of you 10 times.
  • Balance on one leg in a mini squat for 60 to 90 seconds while dribbling a basketball, playing catch or trying to kicking a soccer ball.

At this point, we added approximately five minutes to your warm-up, and you should be ready to perform your normal practice, pick-up game or workout.

Strength Portion – After your workout, perform strength exercises that reinforce proper mechanics of jumping and landing and help you control your body while you’re tired. Most injuries happen to people when they are tired or near the end of a game because they lose focus on controlling their body.

During this strength portion, you should be looking to stay focused, keep your knees from going toward each other during the landing and land softly and on the balls of your feet.

  • Squat jumps with two second hold at the landing 10 times
  • Tuck jumps 20 times
  • Lateral jumps 10 times each side
  • Lunge 10 times each side
  • Plank two times for 30 seconds front and each side

Cool Down – Perform your normal cool down or a nice foam rolling session.

An ACL prevention program doesn’t guarantee you won’t tear your ACL any more than me hitting the driving range three times per week to help fix my golf swing will guarantee me a hole in one, but it doesn’t mean I’m not going to go out and try. I encourage you to take a few extra minutes to help prevent an ACL injury, and I hope your extra work is fruitful to your sports performance and ACL injury prevention.

By: Bryce Vorters, M.S., ATC, LAT. Bryce is the head athletic trainer with NovaCare Rehabilitation 

Overthrowing: Abnormal Shoulder MRIs In Young Baseball Players Without Shoulder Pain

By Dev Mishra, M.D., President, Sideline Sports Doc, Clinical Assistant Professor of Orthopedic Surgery, Stanford University

Key Points:

  • A recent medical study showed that more than 50% of throwing shoulders in young baseball players without shoulder pain had MRI abnormalities
  • These MRI issues have the potential to cause long term issues for the shoulder
  • Players who played more than 8 months out of the year and were baseball-only athletes had a 100% chance of an abnormal MRI, regardless of playing position

At least once a week I’ll see a young athlete in the clinic with shoulder pain and at theYouth Pitchers end of a careful discussion, physical exam, and further discussion with the parents I’ll hear “that’s great, now can he have his MRI this afternoon”. The desire for an MRI is normal and natural on the part of the parents, after all this is what the media tells us will happen in a professional athlete.

(And btw the truth of that interaction with a pro athlete is frequently very different than what’s reported). But this study, published about a month ago in the Orthopaedic Journal of Sports Medicine provides valuable insight. An alarmingly high number of non-painful throwing shoulders in young athletes will have MRI abnormalities compared to the athlete’s own non-throwing shoulder.

The shoulder is frequently injured in young baseball players. Sports medicine doctors will often treat these athletes for overuse injuries and structural problems. Many of these diagnoses have long-term implications, sometimes requiring surgery and putting young athletes at risk for future problems. You’d be far better off not having any of these conditions.

Author Andrew Pennock and colleagues from UC San Diego orthopaedic surgery performed the study. They performed MRI evaluations on 23 young male baseball players aged 10-12 with no reported shoulder issues, and did MRI scans on the throwing and non-throwing shoulder.

Here were some of their key findings from the MRI portion of the study:

  • 52% of the throwing shoulders had MRI abnormalities that were not present in the non-throwing shoulder
  • They identified 2 key risk factors: year round play (defined as 8 or more months of baseball play per year) and single sport specialization
  • If a player had 1 of the 2 risk factors there was a 71% chance of an abnormal MRI; and with 2 of 2 risk factors there was a 100% chance of an abnormal MRI
  • Player position did NOT correlate with an abnormal MRI, meaning that fielders could also have an abnormal MRI

There were also some interesting observations about player behavior and knowledge of rules and recommendations for shoulder safety. 83% of the players were aware of pitch count restrictions, innings restrictions, and PitchSmart recommendations, and yet it appears that the number of players who actually followed the recommendations was small. In this study, 43% played baseball more than 8 months per year, 22% were single-sport athletes, and 80% of pitchers threw curveballs, sliders, and sinkers.

There are some limitations to this study that require additional investigation. It’s a fairly small number of players, and we don’t actually know what happens down the line to the shoulders with abnormal MRI scans.Sideline Sports Doc Logo

If you’re parents or coaches of young baseball players please have a look at the guidelines and rules in place from Little League Baseball and PitchSmart, and then make a commitment to actually follow the rules. A healthy arm is much better for long-term health and near term performance.

Ice Hockey Injury Awareness and Prevention

By Brian Rog and Katie Christopherson, ATC for ATI Physical Therapy

Ice Hockey Injury Awareness and Prevention from ATI Physical Therapy

Behind any sport’s glory lies a complex algorithm so delicate that even the slightest miscalculation in training or performance can cut a practice, game or season short. High-intensity, year-long sports like ice hockey, adhere to a very complex set of rules due to the on-ice demands and endless fitness requisites. In keeping up with these standards, as a player, coach or parent, it’s important to be educated on gear safety, strength & conditioning, skating technique and return to play rehab protocols.

With the help of ATI Physical Therapy athletic trainer and seasoned hockey player, Katie Christopherson, we’ll take an inside look into common hockey injuries, injury prevention tips and stretching recommendations to help you relish the game and all its glory. Adding to this, our friends at ProStockHockey supplied us with an insightful upper body injury infographic , which underscores the importance of choosing the right equipment.

What are the more common hockey injuries treated in the clinics?

When it comes to hockey injuries, regardless of age and skill level, we commonly see injuries to the head, shoulders, hips, knees, feet, and ankles. Injuries linked to the body parts mentioned above can be assessed and rehabbed in a physical therapy clinic. Head injuries are an exception to this as most rehab clinics are not staffed with head injury specialists. However, at select ATI locations, we have specialists credentialed to treat head injuries and their accompanying hindrances.

Within the sport, hockey injuries are traditionally classified as either chronic (overuse) or acute (more traumatic). So when you hear of a player suffering ‘an acute concussion’, you’ll know the level of injury the athlete is dealing with. Looking deeper into these common hockey injuries, here’s a breakdown of the top-4 and their contributors:

Shoulder injuries

It is common to find rotator cuff and glenohumeral (ball and socket joint) injuries being treated in clinics.  The rotator cuff is a group of stabilizing muscles that are frequently used with stick handling in hockey.  Shoulder dislocations and AC joint sprains are common due to checking in hockey as well and require physical therapy to correct.

Hip injuries

In the hip, you will find a lot of groin muscle strains due to a misstep in skating or getting caught up in the boards or another person’s leg or stick.

Knee injuries

In the knee, our clinics more commonly see MCL sprains and/or meniscus tears, which result from twisting of the knee or direct impact to the outer side of the knee.

Head injuries

Given the full-contact nature of hockey, it’s no surprise we see a steady stream of head injuries such as concussions. Head injuries can have very serious consequences and require immediate medical attention, so don’t ignore the warning signs.

How can a hockey player lessen the risk of injury? 

To help lessen the risk of injury, a player must undergo proper training, wear sized-appropriate protective gear, and follow proper rehab protocols when returning from an injury.  Before tackling this checklist, it’s important to know that roles will vary according to a player’s position on the ice, whether it be a forward, defensemen or goalie.  These roles vary by position, so following position-designated strengthening, skating technique, gear, and return-to-play rehab protocols will help you better adapt to role-specific scenarios.

For instance, if you are a forward, the position does not demand as much backwards skating as a defensive position, however both positions utilize forward-skating crossover techniques, so in some cases you’ll borrow tactics from other positions.

Irrespective of position assignment, it’s strongly suggested that as players move through the ranks they should work towards a versatile role, meaning they can assume the duties of a defenseman (or forward), if needed. Doing this helps a player better adapt to varying on-ice challenges, both physically and mentally. The anomaly to this versatility rule is, of course, the goalie, since this position will never assume the role of a d-man or forward. On the flip side, you won’t see a skater step into the crease, unless of course you are Kris Russel of the Edmonton Oilers who holds the record for most blocked shots in one game at 15.

Since we are talking goalies, which is by far the most unique and laborious position on the ice, let’s take a look at what we know and have seen as far as injuries and conditioning strategy. Given the dynamic duties of a goaltender, we most commonly treat hip injuries resulting from squatting positions, quick side-to-side transitions and knee-to-ice movements that necessitate major hip rotations.

Similar to a forward or defenseman, a goalie must also understand the mechanics of the position and the levels of mobility needed to meet the grueling demands of the position. What makes this position even more unique is that on top of recognizing one’s own mechanics and strategies, a netminder must also learn the mechanics and strategies of a skater to better prepare their physical responses.

Once you’ve identified your role on the ice and importance of training and rehabilitation guidelines for each position, it comes time to establish a more thorough, role-specific training and injury-prevention program. For a forward or defenseman, this program must combine a focus on strength, speed, flexibility and endurance. With a goalie, their program should be similar to their teammates, however, he/she must follow a program that has an increased focus on flexibility, strength and endurance.

Avoiding injuries with the proper gear

The main thing to remember when outfitting yourself (or someone else), is to make sure the gear is appropriate for the position (i.e., skater vs. goalie) and that it fits properly. With this, you must also consider proper stick lengths and shape as well as the way a hockey skate fits and the skate’s blade radius. And yes, even the sharpness of the hockey skate blade can affect the player due to on-ice variables such as one’s position and softness/hardness of the ice.  Making yourself and others aware of these things and taking appropriate action can help to lessen the severity and occurrence of on-ice injuries. For helpful tips on properly outfitting your equipment, check out this hockey equipment fitting guide from the experts at Dick’s Sporting Goods.

Corrective stretches that can help to minimize injury risk 

Research has proven that including dynamic (mobility stretches) and static (stationary stretches) stretches will not only improve your endurance and balance, but will also lessen the risk of injury. While the aforementioned benefits are well known across the athletic community, the timing of the stretches (warm up/post-game) are commonly up for debate. ATI’s physical therapy experts suggest focusing on dynamic stretches before hitting the ice and static once finished, which include:

Dynamic stretches before hitting the ice

Dynamic hockey warm-ups, which are great for getting the heart rate up and enhancing range of motion and power, can be done on land (without gear) or can be done once you hit the ice.  Some beneficial flat-land warm ups include exercises such as high knees, hip swings, arm swings, butt kicks, karaoke, side steps and ankle hops. For dynamic on-ice exercises, consider hip circles, arm circles, leg swings, Cossack squats and trunk rotators.  The warm-up should take around 15 to 20 minutes all together and does not need to include static stretches as this will not help elevate your heart rate, which is an essential ingredient to priming the muscles for activity.

Static stretches after a game or practice 

Hockey players of all levels incorporate some form of static stretching after a game or practice without gear. The post-activity stretch is key in preventing injuries as it helps with maintaining flexibility and lowering recovery time. Examples of static stretches include, reaching for toes (hamstring), butterfly (groin), hollywood or secretary stretch (low back), flamingo (quads), lunge stretch (hip flexors), piriformis (hip/glutes), and IT band stretch (side of leg/hip).  These are all important in supporting flexibility and helping stay injury-free.

Preventing an overuse injury

There are multiple steps a skater can take to help prevent an overuse injury.  First off, as is the case in all sports, proper training is the cornerstone for achieving peak performance and fitness levels. In doing this, avoid going from minimal levels of activity to a high level as your chances of injury or muscle strain are significantly increased.

When training, also pay close attention to your form when doing cross-overs, skating backwards, and working on shooting technique. Over time, improper form places unnecessary loads on the muscles, causing them to break down. As a result, recovery times become lengthy and rehab programs exhausting.

This brings us to our last point on the role warm-ups and post-activity stretching play in shielding your muscles from injury. Including some form of dynamic warm-up before activity as well as static stretches afterward can be very beneficial for muscle sustainability, wellness and recovery. It’s been stated that well-structured warm-ups and stretches will get your heart rate and muscles ready to handle a heavy load while post-activity stretching allows your heart rate to decrease, causing your body to idle down into a resting state.

Managing hockey injuries, aches and pains

ATI experts strongly encourage athletes to take care of any minor aches and pains before they compound and get worse.  This can be as simple as heating for 20 minutes before activity and icing for 20 minutes after activity when the athlete feels soreness in one particular area.  If the pain persists, it might be a good idea to call your physician or visit your nearest ATI physical therapy clinic. In fact, at ATI, we offer complimentary injury screenings, so stop in and see what we can do for you.

5 Reasons Why Outpatient Spine Surgery Is Here To Stay From Dr. Kern Singh

human spine

Dr. Kern Singh, co-founder of the Minimally Invasive Spine Institute at Rush in Chicago, recently penned an article on the safety of outpatient spine surgery for Vertebral Columns, a publication of the International Society for the Advancement of Spine Surgery.

The article responds to a USA Today and Kaiser Health News article highlighting the risk of cervical hematoma after outpatient spine surgery, among other potential complications after outpatient surgery. Here are five key points.

1. As technology advances, it has become safe to perform more complex spine surgeries in the outpatient setting, which is typically a lower cost setting. “Outpatient surgery centers are more easily accessible than large facilities, and the streamlining of services allows for maximum efficiency and minimal wait times,” he wrote. “These advantages have led to outpatient surgery centers achieving an overall patient satisfaction rate of 92 percent.”

2. Spine-focused ASCs have staff who are trained in outpatient spine surgery and focused on providing the high quality care for patients.

3. Complications are a concern for surgeons regardless of the operative setting, but especially for the outpatient setting because the staff are not equipped to handle a life-threatening complication. ASCs and surgeons should have an action plan to transfer patients to the hospital quickly if there are signs a complication occurred.

“Though rare, a cervical hematoma can develop in the first few hours after surgery,” wrote Dr. Singh. “For this reason, patients in the outpatient setting are monitored closely during the immediate postoperative period so emergent treatment can be initiated if needed.”

4. Dr. Singh cited an article published by McClelland et al., showing complication rates among outpatient cervical fusion patients from 1996 to 2016. The complication rate was 1.8 percent and mortality rate was 0.1 percent, much lower than up to 5 percent rates that have been associated with hospital-performed cervical fusions.

5. According to Dr. Singh, most ASCs where surgeons perform outpatient spine procedures are owned and operated by hospitals or health systems; however even among centers owned by surgeons, the surgeons have an obligation to prioritize patient safety.

“Surgeons must rigorously assess a patient’s eligibility for outpatient surgery, as pre-existing conditions may put patients at a higher risk for complications,” he wrote.

He argues that surgeons who are proficient in outpatient spine techniques and responsible patient selection can safely perform the appropriate procedures in the ASC and achieve high patient satisfaction as well as positive outcomes.