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Baseball's Oblique Multi-Million Dollar Injury Bug

Jon Garland pitches for the San Diego Padres in 2010. Garland is currently on the Dodgers' 15-day disabled list with a strained oblique muscle. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson, File)
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Looking up and down the injury lists of Major League Baseball the word “oblique” is as omnipresent as the word “the.” Today the Tampa Bay Rays’ third baseman Evan Longoria and the Atlanta Braves’ starting pitcher Jair Jurrjens were placed on the 15-day disabled list with oblique strains. The Dodgers have both starting pitcher Jon Garland and catcher Dioner Navarro on the disabled list with oblique injuries of their own while the Angels have shortstop Erick Aybar day-to-day with a stiff side and third baseman Freddy Sandoval on the disabled list with an oblique strain.

What in the world is going on?

“It’s really a multi-million dollar question because that’s what is costing Major League Baseball and these guys,” Dodgers’ head trainer Stan Conte quipped. Even he is perplexed about the proliferation of the oblique injuries.

“I can’t seem to figure out where they come from and how to prevent them. I don’t think anyone else does either. They all seem to take the same amount of time to get back. So it’s a strange, strange injury.”

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As strange as the injury may be, Conte does distinguish the pitchers’ oblique injuries versus the hitters’.

“The true oblique injury is probably what a pitcher gets on the opposite side he throws. So if he’s right handed like Garland, he throws, he has this injury that’s very specific on MRI’s. The MRI’s are very very similar on everybody.

“Then we have another group of ones that are from swinging injuries like Navarro’s. I think they’re two different injuries. They’re in the general same area, but I think they’re caused by different things.”

Conte did tell me that a theory batted around is overuse of the core.

“There are different theories about it. One is the emphasis these days on just about every type of fitness including baseball, football, basketball and weekend warriors is the core. The core is the key. The core to everything. Whether or not people are overtraining.”

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But Conte has his doubts about it.

“I just can’t believe that being stronger, fitter and more flexible in that area can be that bad. But I think it needs to be considered.”

Another perplexing aspect of this injury is what a new phenomenon it is.

“When we go back and look at these injuries, we didn’t really see anything that resembled these injuries about 15, 20 years ago,” Conte explained.

Conte explained that there doesn’t even seem to be any description on historical disabled lists to anything approximating an oblique injury, something he looks through on an almost-daily basis.

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“These athletes can’t play even if they wanted to. They may not have called it an ‘oblique injury,’ but they might have called it something else. I can’t find those there. That’s why I think it’s relatively new.

“If it was something else that we were calling it something differently or we weren’t diagnosing it, that would be one thing. But guys couldn’t play so they would have to lose time. Eventually they would land on the disabled list.”

And for it to afflict a player like Garland, “who is religious in his off-season program, did the same off-season program for the last 10 years and never had this, then all of the sudden has it,” Conte said. “It really demands more study. It’s a very interesting injury.”