Preserving player health

Today I read another article about a pitcher needing Tommy John surgery. Many have theories about why so many young arms bear this surgical scar. Sometimes it makes me cringe to see it bandied about casually, as if we’re dismissing what happens when a surgeon makes an incision and does what he or she needs to in order to reconstruct what will hopefully be a functional elbow going forward. For me Tommy John surgery is a colloquial part of baseball terminology but for others, it is their rehab, and their crushing reality.

Recently I read an article that stated that the number one way to prevent all injuries was to get enough sleep. Experience tells me that everything is worse when I’m tired. I’m clumsier, I can’t think as clearly, and I’m more likely to regret things I do late at night such as heading into the kitchen for a snack despite not really being hungry. Nutrition is another aspect that can increase or decrease health; there’s no mystery there although the people selling protein powders and shakes bother me since I feel as if the people purchasing them are being duped, but that’s a post for another time.

Hydration is another component of staying healthy. People know that they need to drink enough water to stay hydrated. That can become challenging when you’re standing beneath a hot summer sky for hours at a time whether you’re playing, practicing, or enjoying a day at the game. Rest is another factor that people need to consider if they want to stay healthy. Your body needs recovery time from lifting, running, or whatever you’ve been doing to train. Well rested athletes are less likely to become injured; they’re also more alert, and more likely to take things in stride as they go along.

My primary concern when I watch sporting events is footwear. I’m looking at every part of someone’s foot to see if I can determine whether their footwear fits. Most of the time I’m comfortable making a statement about footwear fit, but that isn’t always the case. I believe that Mike Trout and Mark Trumbo have cleats that fit well, just as I believe that Ervin Santana does not, but sometimes I run into a Justin Verlander who wears Reebok cleats that are deceptive. His balance is wonderful, his cleats may be short, but they could also fit, and I wonder if that could be why he tends to be effective.

I believe that Justin Verlander would benefit from wider cleats. They wouldn’t need to be much wider, but it seems to me that his small toes are being pinched, and I’m wondering what would happen if we gave him footwear that allowed his toes to spread the way that yoga instructors recommend. One of the reasons I write is because I want to educate people. The right shoes are not going to hurt anyone. Shoes that fit will improve your balance, relax you, enhance your proprioception, and since feet are the foundation of your body, the right shoes are going to make you a healthier person from the ground up.

While I can’t say for sure that ill-fitting footwear contributes to the need for any type of surgery, I think it makes sense for baseball to rule out the factors that they can control that will also increase player health and wellness. Cleat fit can be controlled. Players can, and should, be measured for cleats. That’s the bottom line here. Measuring players for cleats is simply the right, fair, and ethical thing to be doing for people whose livelihood is on the line.

Focusing on Tommy John as an epidemic is understandable; however I believe that the injury umbrella is much broader and more insidious than that. As far as I can tell, cleated sports have no standard protocol to measure and fit players for footwear. This creates a liability for them that can translate into large sums of money being lost, but the bigger issue is what is it doing to the players, coaches, managers, and umpires who are being denied this type of preventative care?

In a game where everything is measured, there is a gaping hole that could be easily repaired. Measuring players takes mere minutes, people are buying footwear anyways, and I believe that the process could be streamlined to take a minimum of time since everyone is busy in today’s world. Preserving health is way more important than winning a ball game, even if that’s game seven of the World Series. No spine, neck, hip, knee, or ankle should be subjected to pain and discomfort that is preventable.

Often times we don’t want to admit that we’re part of the problem instead of being a part of a possible solution. Quite frankly, I wouldn’t bother with measuring at the MLB level since the budget exists for custom cleats that are constructed from an individual set of feet on out. I believe that the level of baseball we’re seeing now is a shadow of what we could be watching if cleats were made solely for their owners. I can see hitters improving, pitching would be better and more importantly baseball would lose fewer players for shorter periods of time to things like shin splints, inversion sprains, and ingrown toenails.

Tommy John surgery is the tip of the proverbial injury iceberg, there are many ways to decrease health, and there are also simple things we can be doing to increase and preserve whatever level of foot health people currently have. Footwear that fits is not the sole answer; it is a common sense approach to an area that has long been neglected for whatever reason. Take a minute to flip through old photos of previous generations of baseball; I believe that you will notice that posture and cleat fit degrade as you move towards present day ball players. Is it just a coincidence that we also have more players than ever needing UCL replacement?

Saberfeet: How healthy are your feet?

One thought on “Preserving player health”

  1. Hi Jessica, I think you are right that footwear can play a role in injuries, both to the feet and the rest of the body. I also agree that when you look at the posture of players now and 30, 40, or 50 years ago, posture is getting worse and worse. Postural alignment which dictates muscle function and joint range of motion and the subsequent stresses placed upon all surrounding structures, is often the difference between a player having a healthy long career and a short injury filled career. The elbow joint is an amazing joint, but it’s health is dependent on the position (postural alignment) of the shoulder, thoracic spine, lumbar spine, pelvis, hips, knees, ankles and feet. The elbow is designed as a stable joint, but will experience excessive and destructive stresses when the shoulder, a mobile joint by design, has lost it’s mobility, or the scapula (designed for stability) loses it’s stability. Dysfunction of a joint somewhere else along the kinetic chain or even on the opposite side of the body (an elevated or rotated pelvis for example) will lead to compensation throughout the body. This compensation is almost always the cause of the injury or pain. Until the dysfunction and compensation are addressed and corrected, the athlete has no hope of being pain free and performing at their best. Surgery is merely treating the symptom, not correcting the dysfunction or compensation.

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