In the early weeks of baseball season, cold weather can cause a sudden rise in muscle injuries. This year we have seen several well-known players spend time on the disabled list due to hamstring and quadriceps injuries. Most surprising is that it is late May and players in New England are still facing this problem.
In general, large muscles such as those in the lower extremities require increased circulation to maintain function. Cold exposure results in constriction of blood vessels and diminished blood supply. Sudden activity in this state may result in muscle tears. These injuries are not the result of poor conditioning. The goal is to maintain a high volume of blood supply despite cold exposure.
The challenge is particularly difficult in sports where there are long periods of rest alternating with the need for sudden bursts of speed. Baseball athletic trainers, especially those working for teams in colder climates, must directly face this obstacle.
Dustin Luepker is the certified athletic trainer assigned to the Connecticut Defenders. Despite the pungent smell, he recommends the use of oil of wintergreen on affected limbs, along with warm clothing and a heat pack placed in the back pocket of the throwing hand. Tim Lentych, the Trenton Thunder athletic trainer, suggests generous application of baby oil covered by tight, cold gear clothing.
This problem of keeping players warmed up is especially difficult in the American League where designated hitters wait several innings before getting a turn at bat. Athletic trainers will often send these players to the clubhouse to use a stationary bicycle.
Many people prefer workouts in the early morning when there is still a chill in the air. These regimens may include running, biking, or an early golf tee-time. It is important to take the time to stretch despite the temptation to begin immediately.
The consequences of a torn muscle include extended rehabilitation and time away from a much-enjoyed activity.
Anthony G. Alessi, MD, is Chief of Neurology at The William W. Backus Hospital and in private practice at NeuroDiagnostics, LLC, in Norwich. E-mail him at email@example.com. If you wish to learn more about this column or other sports health topics – listen to the podcast or go to the Healthy Sports blog at www.backushospital.org.