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The Most Common Baseball Injuries: Causes, Recovery Times, and Physical Therapy

June 7th, 2024 | 9 min. read

The Most Common Baseball Injuries: Causes, Recovery Times, and Physical Therapy
Ben Bullard

Ben Bullard

Licensed Physical Therapist, PT, DPT // Dry Needling Certified // Director, EW Motion Therapy Meadowbrook

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Baseball is a beloved sport enjoyed by millions worldwide, but like any sport, it comes with its risks. Understanding the most common baseball injuries, their causes, symptoms, and recovery times can help players stay healthy and on the field. Moreover, physical therapy plays a crucial role in preventing these injuries and aiding in recovery. We will discuss six primary injuries baseball players can incur: 


  1. Rotator cuff tears 
  2. UCL injuries
  3. Labral tears
  4. Hamstring strains
  5. Ankle sprains
  6. Tendonitis


The top six most common baseball injuries


Rotator cuff tears

The rotator cuff is a group of four muscles and their associated tendons that stabilize the shoulder joint and allow for a wide range of motion. Baseball players, especially pitchers, are prone to rotator cuff tears due to the repetitive overhead motions required in the sport. ​​A partial-thickness rotator cuff tear involves damage to only part of the tendon, whereas a full-thickness tear extends through the entire tendon, often resulting in a complete tear.



  1. Pain in the shoulder: This pain can be sharp or a dull ache, especially when lifting the arm. It is often exacerbated by activities like throwing or lifting.
  2. Weakness in the shoulder: Players may struggle to perform simple tasks such as combing their hair or reaching behind their backs.
  3. A clicking or popping sensation: This can occur when moving the shoulder due to the friction created by instability in the shoulder.
  4. Limited range of motion: The shoulder may feel stiff, and movements could be restricted due to pain or mechanical blockage.


Recovery from a rotator cuff tear can range from a few weeks for minor tears treated with rest and physical therapy to several months for severe tears that may require surgical intervention. Physical therapy is crucial in the recovery process to restore strength, flexibility, and functional movement.


UCL injuries (ulnar collateral ligament)

The UCL is a crucial ligament in the elbow that helps stabilize the joint, especially during the intense stress of throwing motions. UCL injuries, often called Tommy John injuries, are common in pitchers due to the repetitive stress and high forces placed on the elbow during pitching.



  1. Pain on the inner side of the elbow: This pain can be persistent and sharp, particularly during or after throwing.
  2. A feeling of instability: Players might describe a sense of the elbow giving out or being loose.
  3. Swelling and tenderness: The inner part of the elbow can become swollen and sensitive to touch.
  4. Decreased ability to throw or grip objects: Performance can be significantly affected, with reduced velocity and control when pitching.


Non-surgical treatment with rest, bracing, and physical therapy can take several months. If surgery is required, recovery can take 12 to 18 months, involving a comprehensive rehabilitation program to restore strength and throwing mechanics.


Labral tears

The labrum is a ring of cartilage that surrounds the shoulder socket, helping to stabilize the joint. Labral tears can occur from repetitive shoulder motions, such as pitching, or a traumatic event, such as falling on an outstretched arm or diving for a ball.



  1. Deep shoulder pain: This pain is often located deep within the joint and can be difficult to pinpoint.
  2. Catching or locking sensation: The shoulder may feel like it gets stuck or catches during specific movements.
  3. Decreased strength: Players may notice a reduction in their throwing power and overall shoulder strength.
  4. Limited range of motion: Shoulder movements may become painful and restricted, making overhead activities challenging.


Recovery can vary from 3 to 6 months up to a year, depending on the severity of the tear and whether surgical intervention is needed. Post-surgical rehabilitation focuses on restoring full range of motion, strength, and functional capacity.


Hamstring strains

Hamstring strains are common in baseball players due to the sprinting, sudden stops, and rapid changes in direction involved in the game. A strain occurs when the muscle fibers or tendons are overstretched or torn, ranging from mild to severe.



  1. Sudden, sharp pain in the back of the thigh: This pain often occurs during activities that involve running or jumping.
  2. Swelling and bruising: The affected area may become swollen and bruised, indicating bleeding within the muscle or tendon.
  3. Weakness in the hamstring: Players might struggle with walking, running, or knee bending.
  4. Difficulty walking or running: Severe strains can significantly impair movement, making it painful or impossible to continue playing.


Mild strains may heal in a few weeks with rest, ice, compression, elevation (RICE), and physical therapy. Severe strains or tears can take up to 3 months to heal fully, with physical therapy focusing on restoring flexibility, strength, and proper muscle function.


Ankle sprains

Ankle sprains happen when the ligaments that support the ankle stretch beyond their limits and tear. This injury often occurs while running, jumping, or changing direction quickly, all common movements in baseball.



  1. Pain and swelling: The affected area may become swollen and painful, making it difficult to bear weight.
  2. Bruising: Discoloration around the ankle can occur due to the injury.
  3. Limited range of motion: The ankle may feel stiff, and movements can be painful.
  4. Instability: Players might experience a feeling of weakness or instability, making it challenging to perform activities that require balance.


Recovery can range from a few days for minor sprains to several weeks or months for more severe injuries. Physical therapy is essential for regaining stability, strength, and normal function in the ankle, helping prevent future injuries.



Tendonitis is the inflammation of a tendon, often due to overuse. In baseball, it commonly affects the bicep, shoulder (rotator cuff tendonitis), or elbow (tennis elbow or golfer's elbow). Repetitive throwing motions and improper techniques can contribute to this condition.



  1. Pain and tenderness in the affected area: This pain can be dull or sharp and typically worsens with activity.
  2. Swelling: The area around the affected tendon may become swollen and tender to the touch.
  3. Stiffness: Tendons may feel tight and less flexible, especially in the morning or after activity.
  4. Weakness in the affected limb: Players may notice decreased strength and endurance in the affected area.


Recovery time can vary from a few weeks to several months, depending on the severity and adherence to treatment protocols. Rest, physical therapy, anti-inflammatory medications, and sometimes cortisone injections are key treatment components that reduce inflammation and promote healing.


How physical therapy helps baseball players

Physical therapy is an excellent treatment option for baseball players. A physical therapist who understands the demands of baseball or has played baseball themselves can be a wonderful ally to help reduce the risk of injuries, recover well when injuries occur, and train well to keep playing at your best. Let’s review the benefits of physical therapy as a full-body approach. 


Preventing injuries


Strengthening and conditioning

Physical therapists design individualized strength and conditioning programs that target the muscles most used in baseball. This helps build resilience and reduce the risk of injuries. For instance, exercises that strengthen the rotator cuff, core, and lower body muscles can enhance overall stability and performance, thereby reducing the likelihood of injury.


Flexibility and mobility training

Maintaining flexibility and mobility is crucial for baseball players. Physical therapists guide players through stretches and exercises that keep their muscles and joints supple and responsive. Dynamic stretches before games and static stretches post-game can help maintain optimal muscle length and joint health, preventing strains and sprains.


Biomechanical analysis

Physical therapists analyze players’ movements to identify improper techniques or biomechanical issues that may lead to injuries. Correcting these can prevent injuries before they occur. For example, therapists might use video analysis to examine a pitcher’s throwing motion and adjust to reduce elbow and shoulder stress.


Recovering from injuries


Customized rehabilitation programs

Physical therapists develop personalized rehabilitation programs for injured players that focus on gradual recovery. These programs restore strength, flexibility, and function without rushing the healing process. Rehabilitation might include progressive exercises that gradually increase the intensity, ensuring a safe return to play.


Pain management

Physical therapists use various techniques, such as manual therapy, ice, heat, and electrical stimulation, to manage pain and reduce inflammation, facilitating a quicker recovery. These methods can help control pain levels and enhance the body’s natural healing processes, making recovery more comfortable.


Functional training

Physical therapists incorporate sport-specific drills and exercises as recovery progresses to help players regain their pre-injury performance level and ensure they are ready to return to the field safely. Functional training includes activities that mimic the demands of baseball, such as throwing, batting, and sprinting, ensuring that players are fully prepared for the game’s physical challenges.


Baseball players face unique challenges and risks when it comes to injuries. Understanding the common injuries, their causes, symptoms, and recovery times can help take proactive measures. Physical therapy is indispensable in preventing and recovering from these injuries, ensuring players can enjoy the game they love while staying healthy and performing at their best.


If you're a baseball player dealing with an injury or looking to prevent one, consider consulting with a physical therapist to develop a plan tailored to your needs. With the right approach, you can reduce your risk of injury and recover more efficiently, keeping you in the game for years to come. We love helping our baseball players at EW Motion Therapy do this daily through customized programming tailored to your specific needs and goals. If you’re curious about what your physical therapy might cost, click the button below to download our free pricing guide.


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