If your kids play baseball, remember this...the batter may get all the attention, but it's the catcher who takes the biggest hit.
New research suggests the player behind home plate is at the highest risk for pain, numbness and blood flow problems to the hand. "Even at rest they still have significant abnormalities - so they obviously have something going on with their hands. The real question is what is the long term effect of this and is it reversible the minute they quit playing," said Adam Ginn, M.D., a researcher at Wake Forest University Medical Center.
Dr. Ginn says changes in glove design and catching techniques could help. The researchers say the current design of catcher's mitts ensures that most pitches are caught at the base of the webbing, at the bottom of the index finger, where many vessels and nerves are located. Dr. Ginn says while a little league pitch may not pack the same punch, years of playing can take its toll, so youngsters who have their eye on a career as a catcher should make sure their glove has plenty of padding. And at the first sign of sign of numbness or pain, they may want to adjust their technique.
The study was conducted at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center and is published in the journal Bone and Joint Surgery. The study examined 36 players on four minor league baseball teams in North Carolina. It was conducted from April to September 2001 and included nine catchers, seven infielders, five outfielders and 15 pitchers.
Researcher say professional baseball players may be exposed to more repetitive hand trauma than any other sport. The study found a greater incidence of hand symptoms in catchers than in other layers, despite the fact that 89 percent of them used additional protective padding.catchers may receive 150 pitches per game at speeds, many at speeds over 90 m.p.h. The repetitive impact of the ball hitting the gloved hand has been shown to lead to damage to blood vessels. Over time, blood flow can be significantly reduced and nerves may be bruised, causing numbness and tingling, reduced sensitivity to cold and bluish-colored skin.
Researchers say despite well-padded catchers' mitts and the use of additional padding, the catchers examined in this study continue to demonstrate changes to the gloved index finger consistent with trauma. The researchers used ultrasound and other testing to look at blood circulation in the hands. They also looked for enlarged fingers, a sign of injury, and asked players about hand symptoms.
Circulation testing revealed abnormalities in blood flow to the gloved hands of catchers. In addition, catchers had significant index finger enlargement in the gloved hand compared to the other hand, with an average increase of almost two ring sizes.
Pitchers and field players tend to catch the ball in the webbing itself, away from the hand. Catchers were more likely than any other position to have hand weakness, with 44 percent reporting this symptom. Catchers reported more symptoms of weakness, numbness, tingling and pain in their gloved hands (56 percent) versus than throwing hands (11%). Because these symptoms occurred during games, rather than at rest, the researchers believe they are related to nerve trauma in the hand, rather than to significantly reduced blood flow. But, the early vessel damage found in the study could lead to permanent circulation problems.