By definition, softball is not a contact sport, which makes players prone to injury. Yet, because of the sport's frequent repetition of movement and combination of high-speed skills -- notably pitching, running, fielding and hitting -- softball injuries are frequent and can range from mild to severe. While sprains and strains are part of most athletic activities, the prolonged overuse of certain muscles can do more pronounced, long-term damage to softball players.
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Acute injuries come from one specific incident on the field. Most acute injuries are not serious, unless they involve a collision between players, or a player being hit by a batted or thrown ball.
The most common acute softball injuries occur in the lower half of the body, including ankle sprains and twisted knees from running the bases or fielding the ball. A more serious acute injury involves the tearing of an anterior cruciate ligament -- located in the knee. While surgery can repair this injury, recovery time can be lengthy.
Overuse injuries are more common in softball, and they are potentially more serious. Occurring when a certain muscle, tendon or combination of muscles and tendons is used repeatedly, injury can result. The most common overuse injury -- frequently seen in pitchers -- is rotator cuff tendonitis, which affects the shoulder. Knee tendonitis is also a common injury, resulting from the pounding a player's knees take from running bases and fielding.
Caught early on, overuse injuries are treated with lighter work loads, rest and anti-inflammatory medicine. If overuse injuries are not caught early, or allowed to persist, they can cause permanent damage to a player's body.
One of the best ways to avoid softball injuries is to protect your body while on the playing field. Proper batting helmets with face guards can prevent serious head or face trauma from batted balls or mishandled bats. Mouth guards are also recommended. Catchers should wear full-body safety gear at all times because of their proximity to thrown balls and swinging bats.
Safe Playing Environments
Not only should players be equipped for safety, so too should the field of play. Outfield walls should be properly padded to minimize injury to players pursuing batted balls. Players often lose track of the outfield wall while running for hard-hit balls; padding can take some sting out of the ensuing collision. In addition, posts that are in foul ground should have padded bases to limit collision injuries, and fences surrounding the playing field should not have any sharp edges.
Stretching and Warming Up
Perhaps the most overlooked avenues for staying injury-free are stretching and warming up before playing. Starting a game or a practice with tight, cold muscles amplifies the injury risk dramatically. Three simple stretches -- the lying knee roll-over, the elbow-out rotator and the rotating wrist -- can loosen up several key muscle groups involved in running, pitching and hitting. Combining these stretches with a few moments of catch and long toss can prevent a large number of injuries from ever happening.