Play Ball! – How to Prevent Common Foot & Ankle Baseball Injuries
In honor of the upcoming MLB Opening Day—3/29 this year, which makes it the earliest Opening Day ever—we are going to discuss baseball foot and ankle injuries and ways you can reduce the risk of them happening.
For a plethora of reasons, baseball still reigns as “America’s pastime.” Sure, NFL viewership had been steadily climbing until last season, the NBA has an abundance of young and talented players, and the NHL is definitely still around – but baseball enjoys several advantages over those other sports.
One such advantage is its rich history. Founded in 1869, the MLB has been around longer than the other professional leagues, and by a good margin. Another is the unique experiences offered at every major league stadium. We don’t even have to look beyond our own state to see stark differences between historic Wrigley Field and less-than-historic Guaranteed Rate Field (R.I.P. Comiskey Park!).
Of course, not all baseball happens at the big league level!
Perhaps the biggest advantage of baseball–and this is something shared with softball—is that it’s a sport so many people of all ages and backgrounds can (and do!) participate in.
Here in town, we have the Bloomington-Normal Baseball Association (BNBA) which offers opportunities for interested individuals of all ages to take to the diamond, flash some leather in the field, and swing for the fences! The BNBA has everything from T-ball leagues (for kids ages 5-6) and all the way up through their Senior League (for teens ages 15-17).
The City of Bloomington Parks, Recreation & Cultural Arts department offers T-ball and “coach pitch” games—along with baseball and T-ball lessons—for our local youth. On the adult side, there are summer softball leagues for those who want to step up to the plate to try and win the game, or those who just want to have some fun with their friends!
Parents of teens who are at either Bloomington or Central Catholic High Schools might be aware that the schools’ softball and baseball teams are in season. We wish the best of luck to all of the athletes who “lace ‘em up” for the Raiders and Saints. More than that, we hope they are able to stay safe and healthy this season!
Baseball and softball are played by millions of people across the country. Ballplayers have a certain degree of risk for foot and ankle injuries, but this is the case with any physical activity.
No matter who in your family is playing, we have some baseball injury prevention tips we want to share to keep it as an enjoyable experience as possible.
Baseball and softball can be a lot of fun, but—as with any sport or physical activity—they do have an inherent risk of injury. Some of the more common lower limb injuries in these particular sports include sprains, shin splints, fractures, and heel pain.
Ankle sprains are simply a common injury for most sports. It’s easy to twist a foot when running to field a ball or as you step on or slide into a base. Shin splints are also fairly common for sports featuring running – and particularly if the muscles running along the lower leg bones are tight.
Bone fractures are a potential result of physical trauma, such as a hard-hit ball striking a foot. Fortunately, this tends to be a rarer occurrence in baseball and softball than one might expect, but it does happen.
Heel pain from sports can be attributed to injuries like plantar fasciitis, Achilles tendinitis, and Sever’s disease (calcaneal apophysis):
- If your heel pain is strongest in the morning and felt on the bottom of your rearfoot, the likely diagnosis is plantar fasciitis.
- If heel pain is strongest during and immediately following athletic activity—and experienced in the back of the heel—you probably have Achilles tendinitis.
- If it is your child or teen who has heel pain during or after a game (or practice), Sever’s disease is the most likely explanation.
There are two sources of good news in regards to these injuries – they are often successfully treated with nonsurgical care and, even better, injury prevention measures can reduce the risk of them happening in the first place!
As we look at baseball injury prevention, you will want to keep the following tips in mind:
- Wear the right shoes. When playing a sport like baseball or softball (or soccer), running shoes are not enough. Whereas a decent pair of running shoes offers ample support and cushioning, athletes in these sports need cleated footwear. With that being the case, youth should not be wearing shoes featuring steel spikes – molded cleats are the way to go.
- Wear shoes that fit. Shoe fit is an important health and safety concern for any sport. Yes, it is imperative to wear activity-appropriate footwear, but fit makes a big difference. In this case, you need to especially be aware of the fact that cleated shoes more often squash toes together in the front. As much as possible, there needs to be a bit more room in the toe box area. At the same time, the longest toe should be roughly a thumb’s width (and no more) from the front of the shoe. When laced, the heel needs to be comfortably cradled, and the foot unable to easily slide around inside.
- Ease into the sport. If you are older than 40 years old—and especially if you are diabetic, smoke regularly, and have a physical disability—be sure to see your primary care physician to identify any potential health risks. Further, if you have existing foot problems, come to Heartland Foot and Ankle Associates for a gait analysis and professional recommendations.
- Warm up and stretch. As with any sporting activity, it is imperative you prepare your body for intense physical exertion. Take time for jogging or light running, stretch your lower (and upper) limbs, and play catch a bit before the game.
- Be mindful of the playing surface. Before you play a “pick-up” game of ball, look around for holes or indentations in the ground or rocks, sticks, and other debris that could cause someone to trip or sprain an ankle. Remove anything creating an unsafe condition (which is something you wouldn’t think needs to be specified, but experience shows it really does).
- Use proper sliding techniques. It can be exciting to try and beat a “tag out” by sliding into the base or across home plate, but make sure your child listens to coaches when they instruct the correct way to do so. If you are playing in a rec league and have never been coached in proper technique, take some time to watch videos and read information on how to slide in a safe manner.
- Follow doctor’s orders. In the event you do sustain a foot or ankle injury and come in for professional treatment, make sure you follow our treatment plan carefully. Far too often, people start to feel better – but they aren’t completely healed. When they return to physical activities too quickly, there is a heightened risk of reinjury. You can avoid this by simply adhering to our plan. In the end, doing so will actually help you recover more quickly.
These baseball injury prevention tips can lower your risk of getting hurt while on the diamond, but completely eliminating all injury risk is virtually impossible. If you injure an ankle or foot while playing ball, our staff at Heartland Foot and Ankle Associates is waiting in the bullpen to provide relief!
You can always find the care you need for foot and ankle injuries at our Bloomington, IL office, so give us a call at (309) 661-9975 or request an appointment online today.