Baseball may carry the unofficial title of national pastime, but its counterpart, softball, is becoming increasingly popular—mostly with women, but the sport is played by men too.
Whether it’s because your daughter is on the team at school or your coworkers are putting together a coed recreational league team, it’s important to know what injuries are most prevalent in this sport.
Using the same injury surveillance data from the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) that was cited in this study of male soccer players, researchers studied 14 years of data on injuries in female collegiate fast-pitch softball players. 1 Descriptive Epidemiology of Collegiate Women's Softball Injuries: National Collegiate Athletic Association Injury Surveillance System, 1988–1989 Through 2003–2004 J Athl Train. 2007 Apr-Jun; 42(2): 286–294.
Since the statistics broke down injury occurrences by many categories, they were able to compare several interesting factors:
- Injury rates during preseason practice were double the rates during midseason practice.
- Injury rates were higher during games than practice.
- A majority of game injuries were from contact with the balls, bases, or ground. In fact, the most dangerous game activity is not batting or pitching, but base running.
Ankle sprains are the most common injury
Accounting for about 10% of injuries in both practice and games, sprained ankles are the most common injury for female softball players. Sprained ankles can occur from the quick stops and starts of base running, but researchers noted that most were the results of sliding into base.
See: Ankle Sprain and Strain Risk Factors
Most ankle sprains can be treated by following the RICE (rest, ice, compression, elevate) protocol. In order to prevent ankle sprains from sliding, the researchers recommend that softball players be trained on proper sliding technique.
See: Ankle Sprain and Strain Treatment Options
4 more common softball injuries
In addition to ankle sprains, these injuries all rank in the top 5 for being most common either in practice or games:
- Knee injuries, including tears in the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) or to the meniscus.
- Injuries to the upper leg, including injuries to tendons and the quadriceps and hamstring muscles.
- Shoulder injuries. Often these were tendonitis and other overuse injuries to the shoulder affecting the pitcher. Because of the distinctive “windmill” pitch style of softball, pitchers may be more prone to injury and pain in the anterior (back) of the shoulder.
- Concussion. In the study, concussions were 3 times more likely to occur during a game than during practice.
At the end of the survey, researchers shared what injury preventive measures they think may help for female softball players based on their findings. These include making sure base runners are trained on the proper sliding technique and how to judge when it’s appropriate. It was also suggested that breakaway bases may decrease sliding injuries, as a few small studies have shown that they decrease the impact force on the ankle when sliding into them.
Researchers also suggest that careful attention be paid to not exceeding appropriate pitch count to avoid shoulder overuse injuries for pitchers.