Concussion and Baseball - How Common Is It?

Concussion and Baseball - How Common Is It?

Much of the conversation about concussions has been focused on football. The violence of the game, coupled with recent studies that have shown how prevalent chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) is in retired players, has brought a lot of attention to the sport. But concussions are a problem in all sports, including baseball. The number of concussions in baseball is troublesome, and they are more common than people realize.

CTE Begins To Appear In Baseball Players

A couple of years ago, the first case of a baseball player with CTE was found in ex-Major Leaguer Ryan Freel. Freel, unfortunately, committed suicide at the age of 36, at which point doctors discovered that his brain had a significant amount of abnormal protein. Throughout his playing career, Freel was known as a “Dirt Dog,” or a player with a hardnose, physical style of play.

Freel’s mother told reporters that before his suicide, he was so depressed he would go days without leaving the bed. These symptoms came as no surprise to the co-director of Boston University’s Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy, Robert Cantu, who knew that Freel suffered an unusual amount of concussions growing up.

Major League Baseball has made strides to improve how they treat concussions, but their treatment programs are less than a decade old. MLB developed a concussion protocol in 2010, only after Mets outfield Ryan Church tried to play through his second concussion in a two-month period, forcing him to retire in the prime of his career at the age of 31. MLB banned home-plate collisions in 2015 and updated their concussion protocol in 2016.

Treating Concussions In Baseball

Scientific advancements show just how far research has come regarding concussions. There’s no better example than New York Yankees top-10 prospect Clint Frazier. Frazier suffered a concussion after crashing into an outfield wall twice in one game.

In years past, doctors likely would have advised Frazier to get plenty of rest and spend his days recovering in a dark room, without doing anything that would cause his brain to operate. This would include no access to

  • Books
  • Magazines
  • Television
  • Computers
  • Cell Phones

Now, thanks to the extensive research of brain injuries over the past couple decades, recovery methods have changed. The Yankees advised Frazier to keep doing the daily workout activities he had been doing before the concussion. This included running, throwing a baseball, swinging a bat, and spending time on the exercise bike.

The reason is due to our ability to now pinpoint specific types of concussion injuries. To date, there are six known types of concussions:

  • Vestibular
  • Ocular
  • Fatigue
  • Anxiety/Mood
  • Migraine Headaches
  • Cervical

There are different recovery methods for each one. An ocular concussion, for example, would require a recovery plan where patients avoided cellphone use. The fact that this science has made its way into the game of baseball, and that teams are implementing it in full-force, is excellent.

In baseball especially, performance can be affected by concussions. A study by Erin Wasserman found that within two weeks of returning from a concussion,

  • Batting average declined by 31 points
  • Slugging percentage decreased by 62 points
  • On-base plus slugging percentage dropped by 99 points

The study also concluded that performance can still suffer up to six weeks after returning from a concussion. Because baseball is not a high-contact sport, concussions are often brushed aside, and players in the past likely played through them or returned from them too quickly.

However, researchers are finding that they are incredibly common. Teams should be cautious about concussions and treat them just as seriously as they would if the injury occurred in a high-contact sport.

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