Knee Savers - Good or Bad?
Running a camp for catchers around the country, this is definitely one of the most common questions we are asked. Personally, I never liked wearing them. But of the 100+ catchers who attend our two weeks of summer camp each year, usually more then 40 will wear them. Now technically speaking, a catcher with a good stance will almost never touch them unless they are in the sign-giving stance. However, the question that has always bothered my father and I was what amount of research was done in the development of the Knee Savers regarding catchers, prolonged squatting, and eventual knee damage anyway.
To get that answer we spoke at lengh with Dr. Douglas Farrago, the doctor in Maine who actually designed them, patented them in 1991, and sold the rights to Easton. What we learned was that there was no specific study done relating to catchers or sports at all. Certainly not on the preventative value of knee savers on young healthy athletes. All of the research which was done, and the subsequent conclusions drawn from that research, was from work done with coal miners. You know, 6-ft tall, middle-aged miners in 4-ft high caves. Lots of squatting going on there for sure. The application for catchers was a spinoff from that research, and when it was applied to catchers it was initially applied to older MLB catchers with existing knee conditions.
Dr. Farrago made it very clear that the Knee Savers MUST be worn on the lower strap settings to avoid putting pressure on the back side of the knee joint. He gave the example of placing a tennis ball behind your knee and duct taping it there and then attempting to crouch. The damage done from placing those pads directly behind the knee will far outweigh the damage done over time while playing the position without them.
Now, seeing that the knee is designed to bend that way, we also asked him whether it is the mere act of repeated squatting that causes this damage or something else? My father's illustration was "why are their entire Asian cultures that spend more time in a catchers squat position as a daily routine and no real increase in degenerative knee disorders? Elderly people in these cultures are in that position for hours a day, yet they do not seem to need Knee Savers." Dr. Farrago had thought about that situation himself and does not have a medical reason why they do not suffer from this "catcher specific" problem. He questioned whether it may have to do with the fact that from childhood these people sit that way, but he was not positive.
However, after talking with a few more doctors regarding this matter, it was explained to me that although the crouching position does tend to put some added strain on the knee joint, there is a chance it is the constant standing back up that could really be the key to the added wear and tear on a catcher's knees. Sometimes even getting up out of the crouch in a very explosive and violent manner.
So it is clear that many older adult catchers have been able to lengthen their careers after knee injuries with Knee Savers, but anything more is still up in the air. At the very least, please make sure that if your catcher is wearing them, they NEED to be properly attached to the shin guards on the lowest possible strap setting (as pictured above).
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From behind the mask,