So, the windmill pitching motion may not be as safe as everyone thought
A couple of people (including Frank Morelli) pointed me toward this article today from the Chicago Tribune. It’s about a recently completed study performed by a researcher at Chicago’s Rush University Medical Center that looked at the windmill pitching motion and injuries. The results absolutely contradict the prevailing notion that it’s ok for a 12 year old (or a 21 year old) to throw 80 innings in a weekend because the windmill pitching motion is natural and/or safe.
According to the study, it’s not. Dr. Nikhil Verma studied several pitchers, including some from the NPF’s Chicago Bandits, and concluded that the motion itself, particularly with unlimited repetition, can and does cause injuries. The most common is front shoulder pain driven by problems with the biceps tendon.
The article does a great job of explaining the study and what it found. I won’t rehash that here. But what I will say is that it’s no surprise. As I’ve said before, any repetitive motion is bound to cause wear and tear on the parts being used. If it didn’t, there wouldn’t be any Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. But that’s pretty common in office workers using a computer mouse. So it stands to reason that a violent, ballistic movement like windmill pitching would also cause damage and pain if repeated over and over. You’d have to be in total denial not to think so.
Every parent of a fastpitch pitcher should reach this article, print out a copy, and keep it handy on tournament weekends. Trophies are nice and all, but they’re not worth ruining a player’s career for, or leaving her with shoulder pain the rest of her life. I don’t care how good a shape you are in, or how gifted you are with good DNA. Repeating the same movements over and over and over, especially over a short period of time, is neither healthy nor smart. If you’re the parent of a 10U or 12U player especially, and your daughter’s coach wants to pitch her four or five games every weekend because “the team needs her” or “she’s our best chance to win,” you may want to rethink your team options.
Although the doctor believes it’s the motion itself that is the issue, I’m not so sure about that. A poor motion, yes. A pitcher who is trying for another two miles an hour by putting her body into an awkward position to get a little extra whip, yes. But a pitcher with good mechanics shouldn’t be in danger unless she simply repeats the motion so much she wears out the body parts involved.
Be smart. And remember: if your daughter pitches her team to glory at the expense of her shoulder this year, the coach will probably just go out and find some other kid to take her place next year. It happens.
Posted on April 10, 2009, in Pitching. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.
It would be interesting to get all of the details on his study. I’m interested in knowing if the injuries experienced by windmill pitchers is isolated to the bicep, or if it spans other areas like overhand pitching, such as rotator cuff and elbows. FYI, I am not a Dr and don’t pretend to know nearly as much as anyone else. My thought is that if it is limited to the bicep muscle, then that can be better controlled and mitigated through proper therapy, conditioning, and obviously, rest. Once a rotator cuff or elbow goes, you are talking surgery and quite possibly the end of your career. By no means am I saying you get to overuse a pitcher, but I am wondering if a windmill pitcher can pitch more than an overhand pitcher before triggering major issues? And…I’m wondering if there are more ways to prevent windmill injuries than with overhand injuries? For the record, I do wish there were pitching limits for the sport – regardless of which association/organization (ASA, NSA, USSSA, NAFA, NFHS…) the tournament or game is affiliated with. Pitching limits would help minimize the number of cases of overuse, would force teams to develop more pitchers AND would force coaches to learn how to manage. Its not hard to manage a game when you have an ace throwing who nobody can hit.
My guess is you can pitch a softball pitcher more than a baseball pitcher, but it’s not unlimited like everyone has always thought. The overhand throwing motion, while more intuitive to use to throw, is more stressful on the body by nature. The windmill pitch, when thrown correctly, works more naturally with the with the shoulder joint and the arm. That being said, though, any repetitive motion would logically seem to wear out the parts at some point. As you tire and the “tolerances” get a little sloppier, it’s going to speed up that process. It just has to. No different than your car engine wearing out sooner or later not matter how well you maintain it. I agree that reasonable pitching limits would force more coaches to develop and use more pitchers. I’m not saying three innings per game. But there has to be a reasonable point between three innings and 50 over a weekend. Maybe if there are more opportunities at the younger ages there will be more pitchers available at the older ages. Because around here there sure seems to be a lack of them at 16U/18U relative to players at other positions.