July 11, 2005

Catcher’s mitts don’t provide adequate protection

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Professional baseball players -
catchers in particular - may experience significant injury to
their catching hand, even when that hand is covered by a padded
mitt, study findings show.

"Despite well-padded catchers' mitts and the use of
additional padding, the catchers examined in this study
continue to demonstrate changes to the gloved index finger
consistent with trauma," study co-author Dr. T. Adam Ginn, of
Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center in North
Carolina, said in a university statement.

"We found signs of early blood vessel damage that could
lead to significant symptoms and could end a player's career,"
he added.

All baseball players are exposed to hand trauma, especially
catchers, who receive as many as 150 pitches per game, with
balls traveling faster than 90 miles per hour. With 162
scheduled games during a nine-month season, professional ball
players repeatedly experience such exposure. Minor league
players, however, may experience even more exposure, and
injury, since they often play year round. Further, baseball
players, in general, may have a higher risk of such injury than
their fellow athletes.

"Professional baseball players may be exposed to more
repetitive hand trauma than any other sport," co-author Dr. L.
Andrew Koman, also of Wake Forest University, said in a

Ginn, Koman and their colleagues investigated the amount of
protection afforded by catcher's mitts and the types of
injuries experienced by professional ball players during the
2001 season. The study included 15 pitchers, nine catchers,
seven infielders and five outfielders from four teams.

A total of 11 players (31 percent) said they had, at some
point in their career, felt pain, numbness, weakness or
tingling in their hand, but catchers were more likely to report
experiencing weakness, the researchers report in the Journal of
Bone & Joint Surgery. Forty-four percent of catchers reported
experiencing hand weakness, in comparison to 17 percent of the
infielders and outfielders and 7 percent of pitchers.

Further, when the investigators studied the catchers
separately, they found that such weakness, tingling and other
hand symptoms were much more common for their gloved hand than
for their throwing hand, despite their use of protective
padding. In fact, eight of the nine catchers reported using
additional padding in the form of a batting glove under their

Catchers also exhibited abnormal blood flow to their gloved
hands and had significant enlargement of the index finger of
the same hand, a sign of injury. In comparison to their
throwing hand, the index finger of their gloved hand was two
ring sizes larger on average.

None of the other players experienced similar index finger

One reason for the greater hand trauma among catchers is
that most catchers catch pitches at the base of their glove's
web, where many nerves and vessels are located, the researchers
note. Pitchers and infielders/outfielders, in contrast, are
known to catch balls in the actual webbing of the glove, away
from the hand.

None of the hand trauma experienced by the study
participants restricted their ability to perform their required
duties as professional baseball players, the report indicates.
It may have a significant long-term effect, however, including
permanent circulation problems.

"We suspect that at least some of the players would
demonstrate progressive decline eventually leading to
additional numbness and tingling," Koman said.

SOURCE: Journal of Bone & Joint Surgery 2005.