The research, which found early damage to the hands of otherwise healthy players, is reported in the current issue of the Journal of Bone & Joint Surgery.
"We found signs of early blood vessel damage that could lead to significant symptoms and could end a player's career," said T. Adam Ginn, M.D., chief resident in orthopaedics at Wake Forest Baptist, and one of the study's researchers. "The gloves' current design does not protect the hand from trauma."
The study examined 36 players on four minor league baseball teams in North Carolina. It was conducted from April to September 2001 and included nine catchers, seven infielders, five outfielders and 15 pitchers.
"Professional baseball players may be exposed to more repetitive hand trauma than any other sport," said L. Andrew Koman, M.D., professor of orthopedic surgery at Wake Forest University School of Medicine, and a co-researcher. "We found a greater incidence of hand symptoms in catchers than in other players, despite the fact that 89 percent of them used additional protective padding."
Catchers may receive 150 pitches per game at speeds, many at speeds over 90 m.p.h. The repetitive impact of the ball hitting the gloved hand has been shown to lead to damage to blood vessels. Over time, blood flow can be significantly reduced and nerves may be bruised, causing numbness and tingling, reduced sensitivity to cold and bluish-colored skin.
"Despite well-padded catchers' mitts and the use of additional padding, the catchers examined in this study continue to demonstrate changes to the gloved index finger consistent with trauma," said Ginn. "There should be further study into glove design."