Association of maximum pitch velocity and elbow injury in professional baseball pitchers

Brandon D Bushnell, Adam W Anz, Thomas J Noonan, Michael R Torry, Richard J Hawkins
American Journal of Sports Medicine 2010, 38 (4): 728-32

BACKGROUND: Recent literature has explored the association of upper extremity injury in baseball players with various aspects of the pitching motion. To our knowledge, no study has directly evaluated the connection between maximum pitch velocity and elbow injury in professional baseball pitchers.

HYPOTHESIS: Professional pitchers throwing at higher maximum ball velocity will have a higher risk of elbow injury.

STUDY DESIGN: Cohort study; Level of evidence, 3.

METHODS: Twenty-three professional pitchers were analyzed during spring training games and the ball velocity of the fastest pitch thrown for a strike (maximum pitch velocity) was recorded. This group was then followed prospectively over the following 3 seasons for elbow injury significant enough to warrant inclusion on the disabled list and/or require surgery. The association between maximum pitch velocity and elbow injury was then analyzed using an unpaired Student t test.

RESULTS: There were 9 players with elbow injuries in the group of pitchers studied, including 4 pitchers with an elbow muscle strain and/or joint inflammation and 5 pitchers with an ulnar collateral ligament sprain or tear. Three of the ulnar collateral ligament injuries required surgery. For the 14 pitchers in the noninjured group, the mean pitch velocity was 38.09 m/s (+/-1.45) or 85.22 mph (+/-3.24). For the 9 players in the injured group, the mean pitch velocity was 39.88 m/s (+/-2.39) or 89.22 mph (+/-5.36). There was a statistically significant association between maximum ball velocity and elbow injury (P = .0354). The injured group had a longer average career length (9.7 years) than the noninjured group (6.5 years; P = .0248). The 3 pitchers with the highest maximum ball velocity had the injuries requiring surgery.

CONCLUSION: A statistically significant association between maximum pitch velocity and elbow injury was noted in this study, providing further support of existing theories about injury in baseball.

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