more than a century and a half, America has carried on a love affair
with baseball. Kids slam fists in their first gloves, and dream
of one day playing in the big leagues. For a few, the dream comes
true. The rest of us keep the fantasy alive through youth leagues,
on adult softball teams, or pickup games with friends. We pledge
allegiance to our favorite major league team, sharing the triumph
or agony of every win and loss.
Doubleday may not have really "invented" baseball in Cooperstown,
New York in 1839 (the similar English game rounders predates it
by nearly a century), but it didn't take long for Doubleday's game
to evolve into our national pastime. The major leagues formed in
1871, and the modern era began in 1903 when the Pittsburgh Pirates
defeated the Boston Red Sox in the first World Series. Since then,
Americans fill ballparks on hot summer nights, and watch autumn's
pennant races and championship playoffs culminate in the ultimate
showdown between the best American and National league teams.
than following big league baseball, we all want to play the game
ourselves--to hear the crack of a base hit, execute an around-the-horn
double play, or shag a screaming liner. But like all vigorous exercise,
baseball and softball should be played sensibly and safely. Improper
preparation and technique can lead to injury, especially to the
lower extremities, which take us around the bases and under fly
the First Pitch
American kids begin playing organized baseball at age 6 or 7. If
a child is in generally good health and has no preexisting physically
compromising conditions, baseball is relatively safe with proper
instruction in the game's fundamentals.
warriors who pick up the sport again in adulthood are less apt to
be in optimum condition than younger athletes, and should take it
slow before jumping right into a game. Anyone who is more than 40
years old, diabetic, a smoker, or has any physical disability should
see a family physician before taking the field. People with existing
foot problems should see a podiatric physician specializing in sports
medicine, who can perform a gait analysis and assess any risk inherent
in a sports regimen.
baseball and softball involve quick starts and stops, it's important
to loosen up before the game. Even the youngest children should
make sure to do some simple stretching, running and playing catch
before the game to avoid muscle pulls or other problems.
playing pickup games, make sure the field is free of hazards like
holes on the base path, which could cause a foot or ankle injury.
Sticks, rocks, and other debris on the field cause players to trip,
risking injuries, and should be removed.
Up for Baseball
under the age of 10, sneakers will suffice for baseball, although
kids probably will pine for cleats long before that. There's no
real danger in them wearing cleats, but they should be gradually
introduced before being worn in a game. A young player needs to
get a feel for cleats, which should not be worn off the field.
the improved traction of cleats may enhance play, it also leaves
the ankle more susceptible to twists and turns. Any child with preexisting
foot conditions should see a podiatric physician before putting
on cleats. Never put a child in hand-me-downs; ill-fitting cleats
increase the danger of ankle injuries. When sizing cleats, make
sure the feet are measured by a footwear technician, and always
wear a game-size sock when trying them on.
competitive baseball leagues, the use of metal spikes is permitted
for players more than 13 years old. Spikes must be understood as
dangerous weapons on the base paths; they require a certain level
of maturity to be worn safely. They are not necessary for casual
play, and should not be worn unless in league competition.
which technology has made lighter and more flexible these days,
perform the same function as cleats, but engage the ground differently.
They too should be worn on a limited basis until the feel of how
they engage the turf is understood. Unfamiliarity with spikes can
lead to ankle twists and turns in a competitive situation.
wearing cleats or spikes for the first time, watch for irritation,
blisters, or redness, which could indicate a biomechancial problem
in the legs or feet. Pain is a clear indicator of a problem. If
cleats cause pain, discontinue wear for two to three days; if it
returns, see a podiatric physician specializing in sports medicine
baseball's most exciting moments comes when a batter stretches a
single into a double by beating the tag in a dust-kicking slide.
Sliding is a fun part of the game at all levels, but proper technique
is crucial to avoiding foot and ankle injuries, especially when
bases are firmly secured to the infield. Coaches at all levels should
make sure their players are well schooled in proper sliding. Careless
slides can result in sprains and even fractures of the lower leg
also need to be coached on the proper way to come off an elevated
mound with their back foot and land on an incline with the front
foot. The repetitive motion of pitching can lead to overuse injuries
to the feet and ankles. Pitchers experiencing pain in their windup
should take a few days off before returning to the mound.
too are susceptible to overuse injuries by squatting behind home
plate for every pitch. Again, coaches should teach their catchers
how to alter their stance to vary weight displacement.
Extremity Injuries and Treatment
A baseball will inevitably make contact with a player's foot and
ankle, whether it's a pitched ball, foul tip, or line drive, and
sliding base runners often run headlong into a infielder's legs.
Usually this contact results in contusions, which are not often
serious injuries. Ice packs and a few days' rest will usually help
the contusions, or bruises, feel better.
and fractures. Stretched or torn ligaments, known as sprains,
can occur from running the bases, or pivoting to make a play. Sprains
may cause extensive swelling around the ankle just like a fracture.
Immediate treatment from a podiatric physician is crucial to quick
healing. Fractures, where the bone has cracked or broken, often
require casting. After a sprain or fracture, a podiatric physician
can prescribe a rehabilitation regimen to restore strength to the
injured area before returning to the sport.
fasciitis. Catchers are particularly susceptible to arch pain,
commonly traced to an inflammation called plantar fasciitis, on
the bottom of the foot. A podiatric physician can evaluate arch
pain, and may prescribe customized shoe inserts called orthoses
to help alleviate the pain.
Spur Syndrome. A related condition, to which catchers are also
susceptible, is heel spur syndrome. Often related to plantar fasciitis,
heel spur syndrome occurs when the plantar tendon pulls at its attachment
to the heel bone. This area of the heel can later calcify to form
a spur. Many times the ligament pulling on the heel creates the
symptoms, and not the spur itself, especially after getting up from
resting. With proper warm-up and the use of supportive shoes, strain
to the ligament can be reduced.
tendinitis. The stop-and-start of baseball often creates pain
and tightness in the calf, and aggravation of the Achilles tendon.
Again, regular stretching of the calf muscles gently and gradually
before and after the game will help minimize the pain and stiffness.
splints. Shin splints usually stem from an inflammation of
the muscle and tendon attached to the shin, caused by stress factors.
Treat shin pain with cold compresses immediately after a game to
reduce inflammation. Proper stretching and strengthening exercises
should prevent the onset of shin splints.
Podiatric Medical Association operates a toll-free telephone service,
1-800-FOOTCARE (1-800-366-8227), from which consumers can
obtain informative literature on a variety of foot health topics.
The American Academy of Podiatric Sports Medicine, an affiliate
of APMA, may be reached at 1-800-438-3355.
in cooperation with the American Academy of Podiatric Sports Medicine