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Catcher's Mitts Strike Out at Hand Protection

Baseball Gloves Don't Protect Catchers' Hands From Repetitive Injury
WebMD Health News

July 1, 2005 -- From Little League to the Big League, any baseball player can tell you that catching a fastball can hurt, and now a new study shows it.

Researchers found that despite improvements made to the catcher's mitts used by professional baseball players, the gloves still do not adequately protect the hand from repetitive injury.

"We found signs of early blood vessel damage that could lead to significant symptoms and could end a player's career," says researcher T. Adam Ginn, MD, chief resident in orthopaedics at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, N.C., in a news release. "The glove's current design does not protect the hand from trauma."

Catchers may receive 150 pitches per game at speeds sometimes over 90 miles per hour, plus warm-up and practice pitches that could add up to 300 catches per day.

Researchers say catcher's mitts are designed to ensure that most pitches are caught at the base of the webbing (at the bottom of the index finger, where many blood vessels and nerves are located). But fielder's mitts are designed to catch the ball in the webbing itself, away from the hand.

That means catchers may face higher risks of blood vessel injury due to the repetitive impact of the ball hitting the gloved hand. Over time, this can lead to reduced blood flow and damaged nerves with symptoms including numbness and tingling, reduced sensitivity to cold, and blue-tinged skin.

Catcher's Mitts Fail Protection Test

In the study, researchers examined 36 players on four minor league baseball teams in North Carolina in 2001. The players included nine catchers, seven infielders, and 15 pitchers.

Researchers asked the players about symptoms of injury in the hand and used ultrasound and other testing to evaluate blood circulation in the hands. They also looked for other signs of injury, such as enlarged fingers.

The results showed that catchers had abnormal blood flow in the gloved hand compared with the other hand. In addition, catchers had index fingers that were an average of nearly two ring sizes bigger on the gloved vs. the nongloved hand -- a sign of injury.

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