NAME: Todd Hundley
TEAM: Los Angeles Dodgers
INJURY: Strained intercostal muscle (ribcage)
OTHER ATHLETES AFFECTED
Baseball: Jeff Kent, San Francisco Giants; Hockey: Adam Deadmarsh, Colorado Avalanche; Football: Thurman Thomas, Buffalo Bills; Billy Joe Tolliver, New Orleans Saints; Dorsey Levens, Green Bay Packers; Mark McMillian, Washington Redskins; Oronde Gadsden, Miami Dolphins
Todd Hundley's 11 year career is one now known most for its injuries. In 1996, he set the record for home runs by a catcher, hitting 41 for the New York Mets. Those 41 also broke Daryl Strawberry's Mets record. In '96, he caught 150 games, the most of any catcher in the majors. He was known as a great defensive catcher and a switch-hitter with power to all fields; however, since shoulder surgery at the end of the '97 season, his throwing has been hindered and his power has declined.
HOW IT HAPPENED
Hundley sprained the intercostal muscle on the right side of his ribcage. The injury occurred while he was running from second base to third base on teammate Dave Hansen's broken bat single. When he was about five steps from third base, he turned his body and looked over his right shoulder to make sure that the ball was not caught. As he wrenched his body around, he over-stretched the muscle, forming a small tear, which then contracted fully. Hundley pulled up lame as he reached third base, and left the game soon after. The next day, Hundley said, "I feel like I have a knife stuck in me right now."
WHAT IS A STRAINED INTERCOSTAL MUSCLE?
There are 11 intercostal muscles on each side of the rib cage. They connect one rib to another and work to spread the ribs apart and bring them back together again, effectively expanding and contracting the chest to aid in breathing. A stretching or rotating movement can sometimes tear this muscle, which is what appears to have happened to Hundley. Initially, there may be constant or severe pain, but after a few days, the pain occurs only on stretching, coughing, or breathing deeply. Most injuries heal within a few weeks.
This type of injury is easily diagnosed using clinical examination. X-rays are usually done to ensure that there is no fracture of the ribs, and an MRI can be used to determine that there is no cartilage damage and also to positively ID the sprain and its exact severity.
Treatment for the injury is simple. Since a strain is a mild muscular injury, it is treated with rest, ice, anti-inflammatories, and gentle stretching exercises. Most importantly, the athlete must try to limit the movement of the torso, because each bend or stretch can further tear or limit the healing of the ribcage muscles.
Stretching exercises that are done daily can help to avoid this type of injury, but nothing can be done to truly prevent it. The best stretches for this muscle group are side-bending exercises and side bending with rotation. These are the exercises most often done by kids by spreading the legs, spreading the arms like a scarecrow, and turning one way and the other from the waist. The other is done by bending forward during these exercises.
For a full recovery, athletes usually need about six weeks. Hundley came off the DL after less than four weeks, missing 24 games, and appears to be recovering nicely. He may play with some protective taping wrapped around the ribcage, which serves as more of a mental reminder than an actual protector.
Hundley should be as healthy and able as he was before the injury. But, there is, as in the case of most sprains, a slightly increased risk of him reinjuring the ribs at some point this season. Because he throws righthanded, he will lose some power and accuracy on his throws to second, and he will probably feel a little bit of pain because the motion of lifting his arm and then quickly pulling it down taxes the ribcage muscles.