Major League Baseball Opening Day is arriving sooner than ever: March 28th! Maybe they were relying on that info from Puxatony Phil assuring an early spring.
Spring training is of course under way, with the Mets in Port St. Lucie and the Yankees in Tampa (must be nice). You or your child might also be excited to be getting some training in for upcoming school or recreational league seasons.
Training is very important for conditioning in every sport, but it should also be performed carefully and correctly. This is especially true if you’re training up from a long “hibernation” this winter. It is incredibly disheartening to have a sports injury pop up in training that keeps you in the dugout during your opening games!
While sports injuries can happen just about anywhere in baseball, the feet and ankles specifically can take quite a beating. Safe training and safe play come in knowing what can happen and how best to avoid it.
What Are Some of the Dangers to the Feet and Ankles in Baseball?
As you might expect, the most common cause of all baseball injuries is getting hit by that dense ball of rubber or cork that has been blasted off the end of a stick. The feet and ankles are not often the targets in this case, although a low line drive or an unfortunate bounce can sometimes put them in harm’s way.
Sports injuries to the feet and ankles also tend to stem from other sources.
According to the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System (a fine service of the US Consumer Product Safety Commission), anywhere from 27-50 percent of baseball injuries happen to the lower extremities, depending on your age and professional level.
A good deal of research points toward pitchers and catchers having the fewest foot and ankle injuries, while position players tend to have more. Can you determine what might account for this difference?
Bingo, it’s running.
The more you have to move your feet, the more likely they are to become injured. Ankle sprains can happen if you hit a snag in the field or slide wrong into a base. A hyperextension of your toe (turf toe) can happen when your cleat catches in the ground or you push off too hard when trying to steal a base. Achilles injuries and heel pain can result from overtraining in running exercises.
These are just a few problems that can develop, and pitchers and catchers certainly aren’t immune to them—just less likely to experience them as part of the job. One problem that does tend to be more specific to those two positions that you might not expect is an ingrown toenail. This is due to the extra force that tends to be sustained on their toes.
How to Reduce Your Risk of Baseball Injuries
The way you prepare for a baseball season—or any other sport—has a huge influence on your sports injury risks in addition to your ultimate performance. Your body doesn’t know the difference between training and a big game. Taking the time and effort to safeguard yourself every time is the key to avoiding damage.
Here are some general tips, but there can always be more specific advice to follow. Don’t be afraid to consult with your coach, trusted trainers, and us for more personalized advice on foot and ankle strengthening/care.
Never neglect warming up and stretching
Many injuries come as a result of overuse—essentially giving your body more of a workload than it is conditioned or ready to handle. This is how plantar fasciitis, stress fractures, and Achilles problems can develop.
Stretching is a way to prepare our bodies for a period of heightened activity to come. Most teams already know this and have their own warmup protocols, but that doesn’t mean you should neglect them when you’re going solo or engaging in a pick-up game.
A good warm up doesn’t involve only static stretching. Also be sure to do a bit of light running and dynamic exercising as well. A good mix of stretching and moving is ideal.
Have the right equipment
In this case, the focus is largely on your footwear.
You should be familiar with your shoes and never break out a new pair right before you use them in an active sense for the first time. Wear them around a bit first to ensure that the heel is snug, your toes have room to move, flexibility is to your liking, and your ankle receives enough support.
It is especially important to keep your cleats in mind and break them in before playing to ensure they are not presenting any problems. Metal cleats provide the greatest grip, but that quality also makes them the most likely to result in an injury when you want to suddenly change direction and your cleats do not. Be mindful of this and consider opting for a different kind of cleats if your game is built primarily on speed.
Check your field
You don’t need much to make a field, but you should be well aware of your surroundings before you play. Even a smooth backyard or park field can be filled with gopher holes and divots that can really mess up your ankles if you hit them wrong.
Also, make it a rule not to slide if the bases don’t break away from their spots. You don’t want to jam your foot against an immovable object.
Take Care of Yourself On and Off the Field
Making sure your feet are in good shape for play is the best way to reduce risks and increase confidence.
If you or your child have heel pain, flat feet, or other conditions that might provide trouble, that does not disqualify you from play. What it might mean, however, is that you could benefit from treatments to increase your comfort and stability on the field.