Spotlight on The Fall Classic: The Catcher and Joint Stress
The annual fall classic is now well upon us. For decades now, Major League Baseball’s playoffs – from division series to pennant, to the World Series – has been the pinnacle of America’s past time. We watch compelling matchups of high caliber athletes performing in top form, with bodies made to withstand a brutal season, built upon solid workouts, training, and routine.
But after a 162-game regular season, are these titans of sports playing at pique performance? As draining as the baseball season is, the best athletes have insatiable wills to win, so you won’t hear a peep out of them. But is there damage sustained after a long season?
Battered Baseball Players
Baseball, is different, then other team sports. Not all positions put the same amount of strain on the body. In baseball, it seems the two most demanding positions for joint stress, for example, are what’s known as the “battery:” the pitcher and catcher. in previous posts we’ve looked at the demands a pitcher much sustains on the mound, but how about the other part of the battery: the catcher?
The catcher is perhaps more damaging than pitching. To the joint, that is., demanding in its own right If this is true, which joint is the most susceptible to injury for a catcher? First, let’s look at what position catching demands before we answer that question.
Catchers squat behind home plate while out in the field. They also must be agile, easily moving from short squat to a half-standing one, and their reach for any errant – or Wiley – pitches must be almost instinctual. Imagine waiting for a fastball up to 100 mph, or a wicked curve that seems way out of the strike zone, which only grazes it at the very last instant. The catcher must be more than just “on their toes.” Their bodies need fluid hips, knees, and throwing shoulders. In short, yes: the catcher is indeed prone to many different kinds of joint strain and stress.
Surely, one might think, the most susceptible joint is found in the lower body of the catcher? Just by the mere crouch, and squat, they seem so at home in? Well: yes and no. Catching exerts pressure to the ankles, knees, and their throwing shoulder, it’s true. But our bodies are not merely “one” joint or “another.” Hopefully, you’ll see that the body is, in fact, one large, interactive organism: where one joint stress or injury isn’t isolated, but affects others as well.
Let’s use a recent study as an example of this.
Study on Catchers and Knee Injury
This particular study was performed at the Biomechanics Research Department at the Stedman Philippon Research Institute in Vail, Colorado. Researchers analyzed the torque of each throwing position catchers use while in different body positions. Each different position exerts a different kind of torque – squatting, half-standing, one knee on the ground, both, etc. – They indeed found that excessive squatting required for the position leaves catchers prone to possible permanent damage to the knee muscles.
So it’s the knee joints, then, right? Not quite.
The Interrelated Body
The knee joint is crucial in maintaining fluid throwing motion. If a sustained injury is suffered to the knee, the fluidity of throwing then becomes compromised. So what do catchers do to maintain a strong throwing motion? They adjust, of course.
So how is this accomplished? Well, as with all of us, if one part of our body isn’t performing as it should, we shift that stress to another part of the body. This makes us resilient beings: able to deal with injury. Yet by doing this, and repetitively, it may cause undue stress on joints not meant to carry the stress as a way to correct the injury. Other joints then work harder than their “natural” use should. This can lead to “overcompensation,” making that joint more prone to injury.
In terms of knee injuries and throwing torque, then, the wrist – a much smaller joint than the knee – in order to maintain the right power and agility of torque, may have to do additional “heavy lifting” the knee cannot. This is not so great for a smaller joint.
One Thing Leads to Another
In other words, though it may sound the most common injury happens to the knee, it can lead to other, more damaging injuries through overcompensation. If a knee injury is sustained, the likelihood of stress to smaller joints like the wrist become more susceptible, and this added stress could, in the end, do more damage to the wrist, not the knee.
Another Case for the Wrists and Hands
But there’s more to back up an argument that the wrists receive the most punishment from being the second half of the “battery.” In this case, it’s the catching hand.
Statistically, the catcher throws with the right hand and catches with the left. The hand that catches the ball tends receives a fair amount of damage. Another recent study found more than 36% of all catchers at all levels developed severe arthritic problems in their left hands.
So, let’s sum all this together by talking about repetition. It’s also known that repetitive activities can deteriorate joints. Therefore, shifting haunches, knee joints constantly going up and down and over, wrist torque, fireball pitches smacking the left hand: these repetitive actions add up. The key? Rest.
But Don’t Rest Yet, Pard’ner
But it’s the Fall Classic, after all. There’s no time for rest. Hopefully, though, rest can be had. After hoisting that trophy.
- Meir, RA, RP Weatherby, and MI Rolfe. “A Preliminary Investigation into the Long-Term Injury Consequences Reported by Retired Baseball Players.” Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport. 10, no. 3 (July 22, 2006): 187–90. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16857425.
- Newman, Alan. “Catching May Be Fun… but Is It Worth It?” July 28, 2016. http://www.scijourner.org/2012/11//catching-may-be-fun-but-is-it-worth-it
- “Anatomy of Hand and Wrist.” http://www.arthritis.org/aout-arthritis/where-it-hurts/wrist-hand-and-finger-pain/hand-wrist-anatomy