Concussions are typically associated with high-velocity collision sports. Although baseball is a limited-contact sport, athletes who suffer concussions have a difficult challenge when attempting to return to their pre-injury level of performance.
A concussion is a clinical syndrome of neurological impairment that results from a biomechanical force that is applied to the brain. It is a disruption of the complex circuitry that makes up the human nervous system.
Typical symptoms include headache, dizziness, visual changes, loss of consciousness and incoordination. Symptoms typically improve within 10 days of the injury if there are no other conditions that may prolong recovery.
In a recent study, functional MRI images were performed while an athlete was trying to identify what pitch was being thrown. This study demonstrated that multiple regions of the brain must be involved in a hitting decision. The number of areas involved increases as the number of potential pitches increases.
Since 2011, Major League Baseball has been tracking concussions in both the major and minor leagues. Two recent publications looking at this data have both confirmed previous beliefs and raised new questions.
In the 2011 and 2012 seasons, 41 concussions were reported in the major leagues and 266 in the minors. Fielding injuries accounted for 163 of the concussions with catchers being disproportionately at risk with 40.8% of concussions in the majors and 47.6% in the minors. The average time to return was between eight and 10 days.
In another study, concussed batters were compared to a control group. Interestingly, batting averages, on-base percentages and slugging percentages were significantly lower in the concussed group. These numbers did not recover to the pre-concussion performance level until four to six weeks after return.
Although recovery time for concussed baseball players is consistent with other sports, regaining the skill to effectively hit a baseball may require significantly more time.
Dr. Alessi is a neurologist in Norwich and serves as an on-air contributor for ESPN. He is director of UConn NeuroSport and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org