Eye Injuries in Children are Caused by Baseballs
NEW STUDY RECOMMENDS SOFTER BASEBALLS FOR YOUTHS
31 , 1999 -- Baseball, America's national pastime,
is a leading cause of sports-related eye injuries in children 5-14
years old, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.
than 137,000 children aged 5-14 received emergency room treatment
for baseball related injuries in 1996 (the most recent figures available),
according to a safety commission report. Between 1973 and 1995,
88 children died from baseball-related injuries; more than 80 percent
of the deaths were caused by ball impact.
softer baseballs -- which have been shown to reduce brain injuries
and pain on impact -- have been available for about a decade, adoption
has moved at a slow-pitch pace because many parents, coaches and
young players believe the softer balls feel and perform differently
from major league baseballs. Adults also have expressed concern
that softer balls might cause greater injuries to young players
than the harder baseballs by penetrating further into the eye orbit
according to a new study in the upcoming issue of Archives of Ophthalmology,
those impressions are false.
new study, "Baseball Hardness as a Risk Factor for Eye Injuries,"
co-written by Stefan Duma, a graduate student in mechanical engineering
at the University of Virginia; Jeff Crandall, director of U.Va.'s
Automobile Safety Laboratory; and Paul Vinger, a professor of ophthalmology
at Tufts University School of Medicine, shows that softer balls
hurt less on impact and cause no more eye injuries than the harder
balls. The study also showed that young ball players can't tell
the difference between major league balls and softer balls.
myth we're trying to dispel is that the softer balls can hurt children's
eyes more than the hard balls because they penetrate further into
the eye orbit on impact," Duma said. "Our research proved that theory
help lessen the many injuries caused by impact from hard baseballs,
baseball manufacturers have developed softer baseballs for use in
Little League games. In fact, Worth Inc., a baseball manufacturer
in Tullahoma, Tenn., has developed a series of balls of varying
softness -- known as reduced injury factor, or RIF, balls. But adoption
has been painfully slow. Of the 6 million youth league baseballs
in use every spring, only about 10 percent are RIF balls, according
to Jess Heald, Worth marketing vice president and creator of the
tradition-bound resistance to the softer balls is not borne out
by research," said Vinger. "Several coaches who claimed that the
softer baseballs would 'change the feel of the game,' were horrified
to discover they could not tell the difference between a major league
ball and a ball only 20 percent as hard as the major league ball."
study on baseball hardness had two goals. First, the authors wanted
to measure the force of the balls' impact on the bone structure
surrounding the eye and extent of the balls' penetration into the
eye orbit. Injuries to the eyeball itself can run from a less severe
corneal abrasion to retinal detachment, which may lead to blindness
in the affected eye. Second, they sought to determine whether young
baseball players could feel a difference between the specially engineered,
softer baseballs and major league baseballs.
researchers designed a series of experiments, which involved building
a small, metal box designed to simulate the facial bones surrounding
the eye orbit. Duma attached instruments to the box to measure the
force of impact. Then, he set up an air cannon to hurl baseballs
of varying softness at varying speeds toward the metal box, recording
the results on a high-speed digital camera. One series of tests,
using the empty box, tracked the extent of penetration of the softer
balls into the eye orbit. The second series, using an eye model
set into a bed of gelatin, examined the effects of the ball impact
on the eye itself.
expected, the mechanical tests showed that the force of impact is
greater with the harder baseballs.
as expected, the intrusion of the ball into the eye orbit was greater
with the softer balls than with the harder balls; however, the rate
of injury did not increase because the force associated with the
softer balls was lower.
study also showed that when the softer balls were within 20 percent
of the hardness of major league balls, children under 14 didn't
have a strong enough grip to feel the difference between the softer
balls and major league baseballs. The performance or liveliness
of all the balls tested was virtually identical.
not saying that softer baseballs will not cause eye injuries, but
they are not more dangerous to the eye than normal baseballs as
critics of the softer balls have claimed." Duma said
conclusion: "The potential for injury to the unprotected eye from
soft baseballs is significant, but not greater than from a major
league baseball. Baseballs that are 15 percent to 20 percent of
major league ball hardness are recommended for youth baseball because
these balls feel like a major league ball, reduce the potential
for brain injury, cause less pain on impact, and do not increase
the potential for eye injury to the unprotected player. The only
way to minimize eye injuries in youth baseball is by means of protective
Charlotte Crystal, (804) 924-6858.