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.

"Professional baseball players may be exposed to more repetitive hand trauma than any other sport," said L. Andrew Koman, M.D., professor of orthopaedic 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-coloured skin.

The researchers used ultrasound and other testing to look at blood circulation in the hands. They also looked for enlarged fingers, a sign of injury, and asked players about hand symptoms.

Circulation testing revealed abnormalities in blood flow to the gloved hands of catchers. In addition, catchers had significant index finger enlargement in the gloved hand compared to the other hand, with an average increase of almost two ring sizes.

Catchers were more likely than any other position to have hand weakness, with 44 percent reporting this symptom. Catchers reported more symptoms of weakness, numbness, tingling and pain in their gloved hands (56 percent) versus than throwing hands (11 percent).; Source: Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center