Watching a seemingly endless string of injured players is, needless to say, very frustrating.
If you take up the role of the detached Yankee (or Dodgers) fanatic, it’s not the end of the world, because there’s depth on the roster that will prevent a total season collapse. But as an emotional baseball fan, it’s especially frustrating: Baseball is better when Stanton, Judge, deGrom, and Acuna Jr. are on the field than when they aren’t. Period.
But in addition to the above frustrations, persistent injuries to players strike a different chord with me as my educational background is in biomechanics, and I’ve been in the exercise science field in one way or another for two decades.
As a result, I’m going to be the bearer of bad news for many of you today. One of the truisms of human movement that has been demonstrated both objectively and subjectively for a long time is this:
A very good predictor of an upcoming injury is a past injury.
To paraphrase Russell Carelton, there are some gory biomechanical and physiological details ahead. I’ll do my best to keep it short and simple, but the information is key to understanding what’s going on when players are injured, particularly with recurring injuries.
When you’re injured, your central nervous system (CNS) which controls your movement, changes your movement patterns to avoid pain – this happens subconsciously.
For example, if you sprain your ankle, your CNS will alter your gait to avoid pain by changing how and where your foot contacts the ground. If a player injures a shoulder, the CNS may alter the arm slot of the throwing motion or change the position of the cervical or thoracic spine to making throwing tenable (pain-free).
This is where the problem starts: Remember that kids’ song about the ankle bone being connected to the knee bone, the knee bone connected to the hip bone, etc.? Well it’s 100% accurate – everything is connected and if one joint or muscle changes its movement pattern to avoid pain, by definition, another muscle or joint changes it’s movement as well.
To stick with the sprained ankle example: the ankle and the knee are connected by the same bone. If the ankle moves differently to avoid pain, by definition, the knee is going to move in an unnatural pattern too (which places stress on the knee, even if the pain isn’t felt immediately). The knee and the hip are connected by the same bone, so if the knee is forced to move unnaturally to compensate for the sprained ankle, the hip is going to move differently as well (which places stress on the hip). The hip and the lower back are connected, so…
You see where I’m going here. An injury to one muscle or joint will force another muscle or joint to move unnaturally, placing stress on that muscle and joint. And again, for the most part, this occurs on a subconscious level – our CNS automatically does it so we don’t feel pain – it’s just a built-in defense mechanism.
That’s why even when the primary injury is healed enough to play pain-free, other joints and muscles have been operating unnaturally and under stress since the initial injury, even if pain isn’t felt (yet). This micro-trauma adds up and quite often leads to another issue.
Remember when Troy Tulowitzki was having issues with his calf muscles and Meredith Marakovits reported the Yankees announced Tulo’s calf problems weren’t connected to his previous heel surgeries?
Of course, this isn’t the players’ fault. Hell, they want to be out there exponentially more than we want them to be and they’re probably doing the right things. It’s easy to blame the strength and conditioning staff, but there’s a good chance there’s no fault there either.
In strength and conditioning, sometimes you do the right thing and shit happens anyway.
Just like in baseball.
A batter can tee one up with a 115 mph exit velocity, but it may go directly at a fielder. A pitcher can hit the down and away black with a slider and the batter can hit a dying quail that finds grass.
As fans, we can only hope for the best. As professional athletes, they move better and more efficiently than the rest of us (which is why they’re professional athletes) so they are less predisposed to non-contact injuries. We can hope their compliant with the training staff, and we can hope the training staff is doing the right thing.
But sometimes even that doesn’t work. Injuries are going to happen, and one increases the chance of a second. A second increases the chance of a third, etc.
Insert Ron Burgundy voice:
Did I miss something? Let me know.
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