The unmistakable sounds of spring are back. Bees are buzzing, mourning doves are sadly singing and the crack of a wooden bat hitting a baseball into the deep outfield are important reminders of just how special this time of year is. The more nostalgic baseball fans among us, smile knowingly when John Fogerty’s iconic tune comes on the speakers at the ballpark. Baseball fans of every age are ready to play…today.
However, according to the spine specialists at Texas Back Institute, youngsters who play the game of baseball are more likely to experience injuries from the game than the players in of Major League Baseball. Little Leaguers, high school players, softball players, even younger professional players such as those playing in the minor leagues are susceptible to back injuries caused by the pitching, hitting, sliding and running of America’s Pastime.
Back Injuries Caused by Baseball
“The most common injuries, by far, are soft tissue strains,” noted Dr. Dan Bradley, a spine surgeon at Texas Back Institute. “Failing to adequately warm up and stretch before taking a violent swing, throwing a fastball or throwing across the diamond, taking off at full speed, or sliding hard into a base can result in muscle strains or even muscle tears. Muscles and ligaments in the lower back help control movements of the trunk and legs, and must be pre-conditioned by warm-ups and stretching before putting full demands on them,” he concluded.
“Similarly, the upper back and neck muscles must be ready before using the arms and trunk for swinging a bat and throwing,” said TBI spine surgeon, Dr. Jack Zigler. “Neck injuries are rare, but disc herniations can result in a pinched nerve and may require surgery. This is what happened to Cecil Fielder of the Texas Rangers had early last season.”
Young Women Ballplayers are Also at Risk for Injuries
With more and more young women playing baseball, it’s logical that more of these ladies will experience sports-related injuries. Are there any differences between the baseball-related injuries of boys and girls?
“Back injuries in women softball players are less common than in hardball players, except for fast-pitch softball pitchers,” agreed the two physicians. “Although back strains are still the most common injury we see, they tend to resolve faster and allow earlier returns to play than we see generally in baseball.”
“More significant structural in juries are rare. Defects in the pars portion of the lamina, called spondylosis, are more common in adolescent females than in males, and are occasionally irritated by aggressive exercise or hard play. These flare-ups can usually be treated by rest, medications, and therapy. They rarely require surgery.”
Baseball Can Be “Rough” on the Spine
According to several media stories, including the Wall Street Journal Health Column, younger bodies are more susceptible to back injuries from playing baseball. The Texas Back Institute is the official back surgery clinic for the Frisco Rough Riders, a minor league affiliate of the Texas Rangers, so its doctors have examined many of these young players. Are younger players more likely to become injured from playing baseball and if so, why?
“The spine continues growing into late adolescence, and even into the early 20’s,” the two spine specialists agreed. “This means many high school, college, and even young minor league baseball players may have “immature” spines, which still contain some areas where cartilage growth plates and cartilage attachments have not yet converted to bone.”
“These areas are more prone to injury than they will be when the spine is more mature. We occasionally see herniated discs in the lumbar spine of adolescent athletes that contain portions of growth cartilage that is torn off by the herniation. These usually do require surgery.”
How to Prevent These Back Injuries in Young Players
As in many cases, prevention is the best “cure” for baseball-related injuries.
“Young athletes should stay in good shape, even in the off-season,” noted both spine specialists. “They should work closely with the team athletic trainer to maintain their core strength and keep their muscles in tone. They should develop a good pre-workout regimen for stretching and warming up, and follow it every time.”
If you have a young baseball player or other type of athlete in your family who is experiencing back pain, contact us. The physicians at Texas Back Institute are the experts in spinal sports injuries.