Returning to Baseball and Softball

Having been living under COVID-19 restrictions for a while now, many people, including myself, are excited for the return of baseball and softball in June! However, the lack of activity the last few months also has many concerned about the safety of our young athletes going from couches to throwing heat. As an orthopaedic surgeon focused on sports injuries, I want to make sure we are thoughtfully returning to play, especially as organizations look to consolidate schedules and ramp up the pace at which practices and games may return out of the gate. Also, if we want to continue to have youth sports competition, we need to be purposeful about following social distancing and sanitizing guidelines put forth by our government officials.

Here are a few recommendations for baseball and softball players, parents and coaches as they prepare for returning to play:

Think Like February

In a typical year, the slower onset of practices and progression to games due to weather and school commitments provides a natural buffer against arm fatigue and overuse. It’s going to be difficult, but jumping into a packed schedule of practices and games may result in a lot of arm and shoulder tenderness. Avoid overuse injuries such as little leaguer’s shoulder, little league’s elbow, or elbow ligament (UCL) tears by listening to your body and ramping up slowly with appropriate rest.

Start Physically Preparing Now

I work with physical therapists who are throwing specialists, and they teach and recommend a set of warm up exercises to many teams in the Omaha community. Start doing these exercises followed by backyard interval throwing sessions now, and continue to be diligent about the exercises as you return to practices and games. A good warm-up routine and interval throwing will serve to build:

  • Technique
  • Flexibility
  • Balance
  • Arm Care Strengthening

If You’re Sore, Adjust

This chart is a good guide to help habits for managing a sore arm or shoulder as you ramp up your interval .

 If… Then
No soreness Advance one step every throwing day.
Sore during warm-up, but soreness is gone within first 15 throws Repeat previous workload. If shoulder becomes sore during this load, stop and take two days off. Upon return to throwing, drop down one step.
Sore more than 1 hour after throwing or next day If shoulder becomes sore during this load, stop and take two days off.
Sore during warm-up and soreness continues through the first 15 throws Stop throwing and take two days off. Upon return to throwing, drop down one step.

Once you finished an interval program or actually start pitching games, see this guide for throwing athletes for more on pitch counts and rest.

Prioritize Development Over Ultra-Competition

It’s going to be a different type of season, where all competitive results will be taken with a grain of salt anyway. Why not focus more on developing skills and cross-position training players? In the case of pitchers, this will have the added benefit of helping to reduce arm fatigue.

Use Common Sense When It Comes to Social Distancing and Sanitizing

The guidelines our government officials issued as part of the return of baseball and softball are meant, like other public health measures, to limit the spread of the virus through contact and the air. Avoiding sharing things like water bottles/coolers and equipment – as well as frequently sanitizing anything people do touch, such as a ball – are very important.

In addition, it is recommended to:

  • Maintain a six-foot distance from others except when absolutely required (such as plays on the bases)
  • Practice proper hand hygiene
  • Refrain from spitting sunflower seeds or gum around other people

While it may seem silly, these are other common sense measures that will help keep this game we love safer for everyone and help prevent the spread of COVID-19 amongst teams or leagues.

All in all, I am excited to see our young athletes out playing again soon, even if it means, as a parent, that we are watching from a distance rather than in the stands. I am hopeful we can all work together to reduce injuries and enjoy baseball and softball safely and responsibly.

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