Assessment of Elbow Torque and Other Parameters During the Pitching Motion: Comparison of Fastball, Curveball, and Change-up

Eric C Makhni, Vincent A Lizzio, Fabien Meta, Jeffrey P Stephens, Kelechi R Okoroha, Vasilios Moutzouros
Arthroscopy: the Journal of Arthroscopic & related Surgery 2018, 34 (3): 816-822

PURPOSE: To assess the precision of a new wearable device in detecting medial elbow torque during the pitching motion in competitive baseball pitchers and to determine the differences in torque across pitch types and thrower demographic characteristics.

METHODS: High school and collegiate baseball pitchers were recruited from August 1, 2016, to January 31, 2017, through direct request by athletic trainers and coaches. Body dimensions and throwing arm measurements of the participants were collected. The sensor was positioned directly over the medial elbow and pitchers were instructed to throw 8 fastballs, 8 curveballs, and 8 change-ups in a standard, randomized sequence. The sensor reported elbow torque, arm speed, arm slot, and shoulder rotation, whereas a radar gun measured peak ball velocity. Precision was calculated by measuring outlier rate, and mixed model regression analysis was performed to detect differences in throwing biomechanics among pitch types.

RESULTS: In total, 37 competitive baseball pitchers were included in the study. The device had a precision of 96.9% for fastballs, 96.9% for curveballs, and 97.9% for change-ups. The device was sensitive enough to distinguish pitches according to elbow torque, arm speed, arm slot, and shoulder rotation. Fastballs caused the greatest relative torque across the medial elbow (average = 45.56 N m), compared with change-ups (43.77 N m; P = .006) and curveballs (43.83 N m; P = .01). Ball velocity contributed most to medial elbow torque (P = .003), followed by elbow circumference (P = .021), where smaller elbow circumference predicted greater medial elbow torque.

CONCLUSIONS: The sensor is a precise and reproducible device for measuring torque across the medial elbow, as well as additional parameters of arm speed, arm slot, and shoulder rotation. Torque was significantly relatively higher in fastballs than curveballs and change-ups.

LEVEL OF EVIDENCE: Level III, comparative study.

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