Each year, more than 125,000 baseball and softball players under age 15 are injured badly enough to seek treatment in hospital emergency departments. Hundreds of thousands of adults receive minor injuries in these sports. Many of the injuries can be prevented if players wear safety gear and if additional safety measures are added to the game.
Tips for Preventing Baseball and Softball Injuries
To help your child avoid injuries while playing baseball or softball, follow these safety tips from the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Consumer Product Safety Commission and other sports and health organizations. (Note: These tips apply to adult ball players, too.)
- Before your child starts a training program or plays competitive baseball or softball, take him or her to the doctor for a physical exam. The doctor can help assess any special injury risks your child may have.
- Make sure your child wears all the required safety gear every time he or she plays and practices. Insist that your child wear a helmet when batting, waiting to bat or running the bases. Helmets should have eye protectors, either safety goggles or face guards. Shoes with molded cleats are recommended (most youth leagues prohibit the use of steel spikes). If your child is a catcher, he or she will need additional safety gear: catcher's mitt, face mask, throat guard, long-model chest protector and shin guards.
- If your child is a pitcher, make sure pitching time is limited. Little League mandates time limits and requires rest periods for young pitchers.
- Insist that your child warm up and stretch before playing.
- Teach your child not to play through pain. If your child gets injured, see your doctor. Follow all the doctor's orders for recovery, and get the doctor's OK before your child returns to play.
- Make sure first aid is available at all games and practices.
- Talk to and watch your child's coach. Coaches should enforce all the rules of the game, encourage safe play and understand the special injury risks that young players face. Make sure your child's coach teaches players how to avoid injury when sliding (prohibits young players from sliding in headfirst), pitching or dodging a ball pitched directly at them.
- Above all, keep baseball and softball fun. Putting too much focus on winning can make your child push too hard and risk injury.
Encourage your league to use breakaway bases. These bases, which detach when someone slides into them, can prevent many ankle and knee injuries in both children and adults. Leagues with players 10 years old and under should alter the rules of the game to include the use of adult pitchers or batting tees. Remember that you don't have to be on a baseball diamond to get hurt. Make sure your child wears safety gear and follows safety rules during informal baseball and softball games, too.
Who Is Affected?
In the United States, more than 33 million people participate in organized baseball and softball leagues. Nearly six million of these players are five to 14 years old. Even though these sports are not considered contact sports, they are associated with a large number of injuries. Hospital emergency departments treat more than 95,000 baseball-related injuries and 30,000 softball-related injuries among players under age 15 each year. The number of injuries among adults is also high -- as many as eight percent of players sustain injuries each year.
The majority of injuries in baseball and softball are minor, consisting mostly of abrasions (scrapes), sprains, strains and fractures. Many of these injuries are to the ankle and knee. Eye injuries are also common in baseball. In fact, baseball is the leading cause of sports-related eye injuries in children. Catastrophic injuries in baseball and softball are rare. They occur most often when players are struck in the head or chest with a ball or a bat. On average, three children under age 15 die each year from baseball-related injuries.
Baseball can lead to injuries caused by overusing a certain body part. Pitchers commonly suffer overuse injuries in their elbows or shoulders. As many as 45 percent of pitchers under age 12 have chronic elbow pain, and among high school pitchers, the percentage rises to 58 percent. To prevent these injuries, Little League Baseball, Inc. has set a limit of six innings of pitching per week and requires pitchers to rest between appearances. Teaching proper pitching mechanics can also prevent serious overuse injuries.
Helmets and safety equipment for catchers have brought about reductions in injuries. Little League Rule 1.7 says: "A catcher's helmet must meet NOCSAE specifications and standards." Other safety gear has been added more recently including eye protectors and face masks on helmets. Chest protectors and softer balls are also being studied for their protective effect.
Making changes to the playing field and the rules of the game can also prevent injuries. Sliding into the base causes more than 70 percent of recreational softball injuries and nearly one-third of baseball injuries. Using bases that break away upon impact can prevent 1.7 million injuries per year. Adding screens or fencing to the dugout and eliminating the on-deck circle protects players from wild pitches, foul balls and flying bats.
Written by the Centers for Disease Control, 5/00