After playing softball for 13 years, I’ve spent a lot of time covering collegiate and high school softball as an athletic trainer. With all of this exposure to the sport, I have noticed a reoccurrence of certain injuries within predominately the shoulder, knee, and ankle. Below are the top three most common softball injuries, their signs and symptoms, and potential treatment methods.
Shoulder Softball Injuries
Overuse, Labral Tear, Rotator Cuff Tear
Overuse is the most common injury to the shoulder in softball. This could present as tendonitis, trigger points (knots) in the muscle tissue, or just general pain and fatigue. If the signs and symptoms of overuse are ignored, tears in the shoulder’s tissues start to occur. These tears typically occur in the labral or rotator cuff.
Signs & Symptoms
Overuse injuries often present with gradual onset of dull and achy pain, no history of specific incident of injury, general tenderness, and possible swelling.
Labral tears will present with deep, achy pain in the shoulder. Popping, clicking, grinding, and weakness are often felt with movement.
Rotator cuff tears will present with vague shoulder pain and decreased strength during specific movements of the arm. Clicking and popping may be heard or felt. Stiffness typically occurs with or without activity.
Overuse injuries typically need rest along with a little therapy and strengthening exercises. Anti-inflammatories may also be used as recommended by your sports medicine professional. Wraps and bracing may be worn (such as a shoulder spica or sully brace) if the athlete needs to continue to play.
If a tear is present, there is a small possibility that it will completely heal without surgery. Non-invasive treatment includes complete rest, rehabilitation, and therapy. Other plans of treatment would be on a case by case basis as decided by your physician.
Softball Knee Injuries
ACL Tear, Meniscal Tear
An ACL tear occurs when a player plants and twists the foot and leg. In softball, this can happen to a batter whose foot becomes stuck while the rest of her body is opening up as she swings or to a fielder who goes after a ball and doesn’t have time to properly set herself before making the throw and twists awkwardly on her planted foot.
A meniscal tear also involves a plant and twist mechanism but may include an applied outside force. This can happen the same way as an ACL but may also involve a collision with another player creating that outside force.
Signs and Symptoms
An ACL tear will be extremely painful at first. The athlete will hear/feel a pop or snap and then will be able to walk but the knee will feel lose and unstable. The joint will become stiff to move due to the major swelling that typically occurs.
A meniscal tear presents with deep, painful walking and the player may notice popping or clicking while using the stairs. The joint may be stiff causing decreased range of motion.
In order to play competitively, surgery is about the only option athletes have after an ACL tear. Therapy and rehabilitation exercises will be needed before and after surgery to ensure the best results.
A meniscal tear doesn’t always require surgery. Stretching and therapy can be done to combat the discomfort the athlete may feel along with taking anti-inflammatories. Rest and ice are also helpful in conjunction with your doctor’s prescribed rehab and treatment plan.
Softball Ankle Sprains
Lateral and High Ankle Sprains
A lateral ankle sprain occurs when an athlete lands or rolls onto the outside of the foot causing the ligaments to stretch. This can happen to a pitcher who lands on the outside of her foot, an outfielder who steps in a hole in the outfield, or a player sliding into a base and gets their foot caught.
A high ankle sprain is sustained when the foot is forced into extreme eversion (outward), forced into excessive dorsiflexion (upward), or a combination of both. This can happen to a runner whose sliding and jams her foot into the base at an awkward angle or to a fielder whose cleat gets caught in the ground as she moves for a ball.
Signs and Symptoms
A lateral and high ankle sprain will present with pain while walking with tenderness over the affected ligament. There may also be varying degrees of swelling and bruising depending on the severity of the injury.
When it comes to twisted ankles in softball, the severity of the sprain determines the aggressiveness of the treatment. The typical protocol for an ankle sprain is rest, ice, and rehab exercises/therapy that focus on range of motion, strength, and stability.
Tape or bracing may be required to keep the athlete participating while recovering. While tape may be helpful at first to apply extra compression and reduce swelling, it’s important that a player doesn’t bind their ankle in place with lace-up ankle braces or traditional taping methods in the long run. By taping and binding the ankle in place, they are working against tape while trying to run and jump – resulting in extra resistance on their joint that is actively trying to heal and/or perform.
Athletes recovering from a softball ankle injury should be wearing a hinged-cuff brace that provides full range of motion to allow the ankle to heal and regain strength while providing the stability needed to keep the ankle safe.
Do you have any questions about your softball ankle injury? Let us know in the comments or send us a message and one of our certified athletic trainers will get back to you as soon as they can.
Written by Lauren Dybwad
Lauren Dybwad is a certified athletic trainer and a nationally and state registered EMT.