Torque From Fastballs

February 6, 2018

A recent study’s findings suggest baseball pitchers’ elbows experience more torque from throwing fastballs than other pitches. This contrasts traditional beliefs, which typically associates breaking balls with higher levels of torque.

An article from Healio reports that the study examined 37 college and high school baseball pitchers’ shoulder rotation, arm speed, arm slot, and elbow torque. The researchers used a sleeve equipped with a gyroscopic sensor with an accelerometer; the measurements were taken over the medial elbow. The pitches’ peak ball velocity was also measured with a radar gun.

“The take home message of the study is that there’s a lot of sentiment out there that breaking pitches put the elbow at increased risk for injury, especially in the younger patient population,” Eric C. Makhni, MD, MBA, co-author of the study and a sports medicine orthopedic surgeon at Henry Ford Health System, said. “What our study showed was that the speed of the pitch placed the greatest torque on the elbow during throwing so the fastballs produced the greatest torque across the elbow and not the breaking pitches.”

The sensor measures with a precision level of 97.9 percent for change-ups, and 96.9 percent for fastballs and curveballs. Its sensitivity is also high enough that it can differentiate pitches based on shoulder rotation, arm speed, arm slot, and elbow torque.

The highest level of elbow torque came from ball velocity. This was followed by elbow circumference—specifically, smaller elbow circumference predicted greater medial elbow torque.

Within this study, the pitchers were asked to throw eight of each of the following: fastballs, curveballs, and change-ups. Their body dimensions and throwing arm measurements were also taken. Moving forward, the researchers plan to study overuse injuries within adolescent and pediatric samples, along with some other variants.

“We’re also going to look at different things like the type of throwing mechanics used. How does that impact torque?” Makhni said. “We’re going to look at other applications like, ‘Does throwing a heavier ball cause greater torque or does throwing a lighter ball cause greater torque? We’re going to start digging in a little bit deeper now that we have demonstrated the reproducibility and the reliability of the device.” 

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