Physical Changes in the Pitching Elbow

Professional baseball players have a preseason physical every year. From these exams, doctors know that elbow range of motion (ROM) is different for the pitcher than for other players. In this study pitchers from the Chicago Cubs and St. Louis Cardinals baseball teams were examined. All testing was done during the spring training preseason. The researchers hoped to find a way to explain the ROM differences.

All elbow motions were measured for both the dominant and nondominant sides of 33 pitchers. The baseball records for these players were also reviewed. Age, years pitching, and history of any elbow surgeries were collected. After careful analysis the authors concluded none of these factors could be linked with the changes in elbow motion for these pitchers.

They did find that the pitching elbow was often unable to extend as far as the other (nondominant) elbow. The number of years of pitching didn't seem to be a cause of this change. There was a slight trend for pitchers with eight or more years to have more elbow flexion compared to pitchers with less than eight years pitching.

Number of innings pitched was also looked at as a possible factor. ROM in the nondominant arm seemed more affected by the number of innings pitched. Nondominant elbows showed a decrease in elbow extension as the number of innings pitched increased. Increasing age had the same effect but again, just on the nondominant side.

The authors conclude that mild loss of elbow extension in baseball pitchers is common. This change in ROM doesn't seem to affect their playing or the length of their careers.

References: Rick W. Wright, MD, et al. Elbow Range of Motion in Professional Baseball Players. In The American Journal of Sports Medicine. February 2006. Vol. 34. No. 2. Pp. 190-193.