Whats the 'Catch' with Concussions and Baseball Players?

When thinking about concussions in sport, baseball is a sport in which the concussion risk is relatively low.

 Can concussions have a greater effect on baseball players?

Effectively hitting a baseball requires excellent hand-eye coordination, strong visual acuity, quick reaction time, excellent attention and focus, and quick but accurate decision-making.

In a very similar way, a concussion injury can affect many of these same skill sets, as well as hamper balance and motor coordination among others. Normally a concussion clears up in 1 to 2 weeks, but studies have shown that concussion injuries are associated with a decreased batting performance. Although overall return to play in baseball players is similar to other sports, baseball batters can take several weeks longer to recover in terms of hitting performance.

After a baseball player recovers from their concussion symptoms a comparison to their baseline pre-injury scores is needed. This baseline concussion score needs to evaluate eye-hand coordination, visual acuity, concentration, executive decision-making, balance and agility, as well as helping to assure that an athlete has fully recovered from their concussion. Deficits that are still present after a baseline test then become crucial for full recovery.

Since a major league fastball takes approximately 0.4 seconds to reach the plate a batter requires many skill sets that are hampered after a concussion injury while using a 2 1/4" diameter bat to hit a 3" diameter ball.

Functional MRI studies of baseball players identifying the types of pitch thrown demonstrated that multiple regions of the brain are involved in a hitting decision, and the number of brain areas involved increases with the increasing number of potential pitches.

The ability to successfully perform these tasks depends on the proper function of multiple neural networks. The ocular network controls smooth eye pursuit and saccadic movements which are involved in seeing the ball and making a prediction about its location. In addition, attentional networks allow players to integrate extra perceptual information (e.g. pitch count, pitch sequence, pitcher arm position) to enhance the prediction of ball location, as well as block out extra non-needed stimuli. Finally the initiation and completion of a successful bat swing requires proper functioning of the motor circuits, vestibular and cerebellar network involved in posture stability and balance, circuits involved in visual reaction time, as well as brain areas that provides inhibition control over a swing once initiated.

Using advanced neurocognitive equipment and processes, Honsberger Physio+ provides a baseball specific baseline concussion test that identifies challenges in the recovering athlete and is able to enhance these deficits with the same process and training protocols.

Efan Gonsalves, B.H.SC. (PT)

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