Protective baseball gear used to prevent injury on the playing field may not
reduce the risk of injury, according to a study appearing in the July issue of
the Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine.
Over the last decade, at least 25 children hit in the chest by baseballs have
died. The study found that soft core baseballs and chest protectors designed to
reduce injury failed to provide a significant benefit and in some cases actually
increased the risk of injury.
Conducted by the Institute for Preventative Sports Medicine, Ann Arbor,
Michigan, the study tested eight types of baseballs and nine types of chest
protectors. Researchers fired the baseballs at a crash dummy previously used to
test auto safety. The balls were fired at 80 mph and 90 mph, the speed at which
previous studies consistently produced cardiac arrest in a model of a ten year
old. In Little League, pitchers average speeds of 60 mph.
"While chest impact at 60 mph will not consistently result in cardiac arrest,
there is still a risk," says David H. Janda, M.D., Director of the Institute and
lead author of the study. "Furthermore, the largest number of deaths have
occurred in pitchers hit by a batted ball, which typically reaches speeds one
and one half times that of a pitched ball, which translates into speeds up to 90
Based on the data collected, the researchers concluded that using a chest
protector may actually increase the amount of momentum and force delivered to
the chest. Furthermore, using softer core baseballs does not have a significant
effect on reducing the amount of momentum or force delivered to the chest.
"In one case, a softer baseball used with a generic chest protector increased
the amount of force delivered by over 50 percent," said Dr. Janda. "Furthermore,
some of the softer core baseballs increased the risk of injury by up to 19
The researchers found that some of the softer core baseballs actually were
heavier and more resilient than the standard baseball and thus bounced off the
chest further than the standard baseball. This rebound characteristic of the
softer core baseball results in it transmitting greater energy than the standard
"The softer core baseball and chest protector do reduce the sting of the
ball, but may not provide a substantial benefit against fatality," says David
Viano, Ph.D., co-author of the study. Dr. Viano has conducted ongoing research
on the effects of impact and safety in children.
Further research needs to be developed and funded to find a solution to this
problem, according to Dr. Janda. "There is very little testing of manufacturers'
claims," he says. "Standards have to be set to establish that a product is truly
protective. In addition, there needs to be independent testing of products to
ensure they meet minimum standards."
Until industry develops effective protective gear, Dr. Janda recommends
teaching youth how to avoid being hit by a ball as a preventative measure. He
suggests kids be taught these skills in Little League and when they first learn
the game. "Parents should insist coaches be certified and that they institute a
fundamentals program focusing on the skills which could prevent these needless
injuries," says. Dr. Janda.
THE INSTITUTE FOR PREVENTATIVE SPORTS MEDICINE INJURY PREVENTION FACT
Injuries are an enormous public health problem that continues to use up our
limited health care resources. The following statistics demonstrate the depth of
- Injuries kill more than 142,000 Americans each year and result in more than
62 million persons requiring medical attention annually.
- Injuries of individuals ages 1-44 cost the nation approximately 5133 billion
- Accidental injury remains the leading cause of death in youth and sports
injuries constitute an important number of these.
- The United States Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has reported
that as many as five million medically treated injuries associated with fifteen
of the most popular sports occur in a one-year time period.
- The CPSC has estimated that softball and baseball are the number one sport
leading to emergency room visits in the United States (2,655,404 injuries
between 1983 and 1989). This does not include non-hospitalization physician
- A 1981 CPSC study of sports injuries to children between the ages of 5 and
14 years of age found more fatalities in this age group related to baseball than
any other sport. From 1973 to 1983, the CPSC reported 51 baseball-related deaths
in children. The most frequent fatality, impact of a ball to the child's chest,
occurred in 21 cases. (The number actually may be higher since the Consumer
Product Commission bases its estimates of fatalities due to baseball chest
impact on the monitoring of only 91 emergency rooms across the United States.)
- A 1985 Wayne State University study of 23 baseball-related chest impact
deaths found that the most frequent victims were batters, particularly those who
turn to bunt (6), pitchers (8) and catchers (2).