Pro orthotics keep the Tampa Bay Rays on their toes
THE MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL SEASON IS ONE OF THE LONGEST IN PROFESSIONAL SPORTS. Over a 7-1/2 month period, every team will play at least 192 games (including spring training). With only 18-20 days off for the whole season, players’ bodies are placed under an extraordinary amount of stress.
Medical staffs are responsible for keeping players healthy and performing at an elite level, and for many players this starts with addressing imbalances in their feet.
It starts with the feet
Whether a baseball player is swinging a bat, throwing a ball, running a base or reacting in the field, his power, control, propulsion and ability to react in the field all originate from his lower extremities. Imbalances due to pronation or supination of the feet can make the difference in hitting the ball, making the play, or even being able to take the field.
If the foot is excessively pronated, then the knees will have excessive valgus stress, the Q-angle will be increased and the hips will be internally rotated. This provides a less than optimal position to be explosively powerful and can lead to injuries.
An unbalanced stance due to pronation or supination of the feet places a lot of stress on the body and increases the risk of injury. Players with excessive pronation of the feet are more prone to injuries of the knee, hip and even the lower back, while players with excessive foot supination are more prone to inversion ankle sprains. Players’ risk of injury increases based upon the playing surface and the shoe types they wear. Artificial turf is a harder surface and provides an uneven playing field due to the unevenness of the substrate, and with the lack of support that is common in baseball cleats, players who have collapsed or high arches have a higher probability of sustaining an injury to a foot, ankle, knee, thigh, hip or back.
Custom orthotics and performance
To address imbalances in players’ feet to help prevent injuries, the Tampa Bay Rays have used custom orthotics with almost 100% positive results. Custom orthotics correct imbalances in the feet and provide the proper stability for the body with multi-arch support. Custom pro orthotics help align the body, including the foot and ankle, which is essential for a player’s balance and kinetic chain efficiency. They include materials that help with shock absorption and propulsion, which is critical when considering the lack of support baseball cleats typically have.
Many people think about custom orthotics for prevention of injuries or to help prevent re-injury once an injury has occurred. However, the role of custom orthotics in increasing everyday performance is just as important to a professional baseball player. The average batter swings in 140 milliseconds while trying to connect with an 85-plus mile-per-hour ball. That is less than the 400 milliseconds it takes to blink your eye. Imbalances in a player’s feet can affect the stability of how a batter distributes his weight through his swing and be the difference in making great contact with the ball or missing it completely.
Good fielders make fielding look easy, and it is their footwork that leads to the process of good fielding. The better their footwork, the better their glove work. When a player has a 100-plus mile-per-hour ball coming at them, the ability to react quickly and get their body in position is critical. When a player’s feet don’t work, the rest of the body follows. This can put a player out of proper position to make the play.
Imbalances in the feet also impact a player’s speed and accuracy when throwing a ball. Pitching is all about balance and mechanics. If a pitcher does not have the proper balance, his mechanics can be thrown off, leading to an errant throw due to a lack of power and control.
Baseball players stand around a lot, but need to be able to have explosive bursts and movements when running bases or reacting in the field. Players that are flat-footed are less capable of generating the explosive power to propel the body forward quickly. This can be the difference in beating the throw or being in position and making the play.
Reducing stress, improving results
Imbalances in the feet due to pronation or supination can greatly impact a player’s swing, throw, movement and reaction time. Having the proper balance and support helps prevent injury and improve performance. Custom pro orthotics provide proper balance and support for the whole body, help correct imbalances in the feet, and include advanced materials that support shock absorption at heel strike and propulsion at toe-off during the gait cycle.
With our team, we have used custom pro orthotics to make sure our players have the proper support and balance, which has resulted in reduced stress on their bodies, fewer injuries, and improvement in performance. Almost every player or staff member who has custom orthotics has ordered additional pairs so they can have the proper balance and support in all their shoes, on and off the field.
PAUL HARKER is the former assistant athletic trainer for the MLB Tampa Bay Rays; he currently serves as the team’s medical coordinator. He has served with the Rays organization for 23 years and represents footlevelers.com.