Take steps to be safe on the softball diamond

By: Kathy Hansen - Contributing columnist

Recreational softball, which is played in practically every country by millions of people, was invented in Chicago by George Hancock on Thanksgiving Day 1887.

The story is that a group of young men, including Hancock, were gathered in a gym awaiting the outcome of the Harvard-Yale football game. Once the game ended and the bets were paid, Hancock grabbed an old boxing glove and tossed it to a friend who hit it with a broken broomstick. Hancock then grabbed a piece of chalk, marked out bases and started a game. He had so much fun playing that first game, that a week later he had invented a soft oversized ball, a rubber tipped bat and a set of playing rules for indoor baseball (aka softball).

Church softball season is once again on the horizon and our Zion Hill/Trinity Crew is hard at it practicing on Sunday afternoons. While, so far, my CrossFit has made the transition pretty seamless, I am still using muscles in ways I have not used them since last ball season. For me this means a little more ibuprofen, stretching and paying attention.

If softball is your only sport, you need to be extra careful in the transition from hanging out on the couch watching sports all winter to getting back onto the ball field. Softball injuries related to being out of shape can range anywhere from minor, such as muscle strains and soreness, to fractures, torn ligaments and even serious illness from the heat or underlying health conditions. Before you grab your glove and head out the door, take a look at your overall fitness and how it might play out in a big-game situation.

Here is a list of the most common softball injuries and issues that can be prevented through proper conditioning and preventative measures.

— Sore throwing arms: If you have done nothing all winter but throw back colas and handfuls of peanuts, your arm is not ready for the big leagues. Make sure you stretch your arm and shoulder muscles before throwing. Once you have done that, get with a partner and warm up by tossing gently back and forth and gradually increasing your distance and intensity. If you are prone to getting sore, ice your arm and shoulder after every game to prevent the soreness from setting in. A good weight-training program both on and off season also will make those muscles ready for the strain of throwing sports.

— Strained thighs and hamstrings and calves: Muscle strains occur in the legs when players accelerate to chase down an outfield ball or run the base path. Before the game, run some warm-up laps around the field and do some gentle stretching. If you do strain a muscle, use ice 15 to 20 minutes two to three times a day to help with inflammation. Don’t ever grab a heating pad or soak in a hot tub. This will increase circulation to the area and cause more damage. Sports creams are pretty ineffective as well. Again, if you keep in shape by doing some cardiovascular training such as running walking or swimming, you will be ready to run the bases.

— Heat-related problems: North Carolina heat and humidity can take its toll during a game. Make sure that before the game you are properly hydrated. Sports drinks are OK but good old clean water is best. Drink before arriving at the field and drink every 15 minutes even if you are not thirsty. Stay away from caffeinated drinks because they increase dehydration. Wearing a hat and finding shade when available also will help keep you cool and safe.

— Heart problems: If you are over 40, have a history of heart disease, or are more than 20 percent overweight, be sure to get a complete physical before starting to play. Recreational athletes who jump right into playing could have underlying conditions that may lead to a serious problem. It is not uncommon for people who are out of shape to get into real trouble trying to play a sport when in poor physical condition. If you are playing and feel faint, dizzy or have chest pains, stop playing immediately and seek medical attention.

Softball is a whole lot of fun if you are playing it safe. Keeping yourself in good physical condition all year can prevent nagging injuries during the season. Make sure to incorporate weight training and cardiovascular activities into your daily routine. I guarantee you will avoid most injuries, hit the ball better, and feel and look great on the diamond.

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Kathy Hansen

Contributing columnist

Kathy Hansen has more than 30 years of experience in the health and fitness field. She can be reached via e-mail at [email protected]

Kathy Hansen has more than 30 years of experience in the health and fitness field. She can be reached via e-mail at [email protected]