NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Injuries among Major League Baseball players are on the rise, despite advances in conditioning methods and injury treatments, according to research published in the American Journal of Sports Medicine.
The new study -- only the second to examine injury patterns among major league baseball players -- used the number of players on the disabled list over a seven-year period to gauge the elite athletes' risk of getting hurt.
"There is very little information about injuries and injury rates in major league baseball," said Kenneth L. Cameron, director of orthopedic research at Keller Army Hospital in West Point, New York and an author of the study. "We wanted to quantify the injuries in baseball at its highest level."
Analyzing the 2002 through 2008 seasons, Cameron's group found that player injury rates jumped by nearly 40 percent after 2005.
The increase may have been due in part to a crackdown on steroid use during that period, Cameron told Reuters Health, because performance-enhancing drugs can also speed recovery between games.
"When the drug policy changed, it may have affected injury rates," he said.
The nature of injuries did correspond fairly predictably to player positions, according to the research. Pitchers were more likely to injure their arms, wrists, elbows or shoulders, whereas fielders more often injured their legs and hips.
"These findings confirm what we could expect," said Dr. Douglas Comeau, a sports medicine physician and assistant professor at Boston University School of Medicine.
The most common injuries among fielders include hamstring and groin strains. Pitchers, on the other hand, tend to strain or tear ligaments in the elbow or rotator cuff, said Comeau.
In the study, pitchers got hurt most often, accounting for 62 percent of all disability days, versus 32 percent for fielders.
Overall, however, the frequency of injuries decreased every month from April to September -- the first and last months of the regular season.
The initial spike in injuries may be from a lack of conditioning prior to the first big games of the season, Comeau told Reuters Health. "Major league baseball players might not take spring training seriously, but then they need to play a whole game in a competitive situation."
Doing too much, too soon, in practice is also a trap that sidelines many weekend warriors, according to Dr. Matthew Pecci, a sports medicine physician at Boston Medical Center.
"The recreational athlete is at risk because they don't really practice on a regular basis," he said. "They don't strengthen their muscles enough to support their ligaments, so they may be at risk for an acute injury."
Conditioning and rest are important ways to prevent injuries in major league baseball players and recreational athletes alike, the experts noted.
"In order to stay competitive at any level, the tendency is to want to work out harder, and the better thing to do would be to work out smarter," said Dr. Andrew S. Rokito, chief of the division of shoulder and elbow orthopedic surgery at New York University Langone Medical Center. "It's not always the best thing to continue with the same workout routine because you may not be challenging yourself."
But when making any drastic changes to a workout routine, such as starting a weight-lifting regimen, good technique can be key.
"A smart way to start lifting weights at the gym would be to get some sort of guidance or proper coaching from a trainer as to how to lift properly," said Rokito. "Changing your workout on your own risks injury."
For avoiding injuries in the major leagues, Cameron and colleagues reach a similar conclusion. Their study data may be used to develop an MLB injury database, they write, "as well as in the development and implementation of specific preseason training and in-season conditioning for injury prevention."
SOURCE: American Journal of Sports Medicine, online June 27, 2011.