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History of Ulnar Collateral Ligament Injury and College Pitcher Fastball Profiles: A Retrospective, Observational, Live Pitching Analysis

Published:October 22, 2022DOI:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jhsa.2022.08.030

      Purpose

      The aim of this study was to retrospectively compare the fastball profiles of pitchers who had previously sustained grade I or II ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) injuries, were rehabilitated, and released back for competition with those of pitchers with no history of elbow injury.

      Methods

      Eighteen pitchers from the pitching staff of 1 National Collegiate Athletic Association Division III team participated in this study. Group 1 had a history of grade I or II UCL injury (n = 8), and group 2 (n = 10) did not. A computerized pitch tracking device was used to analyze ball movement and pitching mechanics. The hypothesis was that the pitchers with a history of injury (group 1) would display differing fastball velocity-ball movement relationships compared to those without (group 2).

      Results

      The groups had similar heights, weights, pitching experiences, and arm slot positions at ball release. The pitching coach-determined preinjury arm slot position and the postinjury computerized pitch tracking device measurements after return to competition displayed strong agreement (r = 0.83), suggesting comparable pre and postinjury pitching techniques. The groups had comparable glenohumeral joint range of motion and fastball profiles, except that group 1 released the ball at a 2.5 times lesser horizontal distance away from the pitching rubber center. Group 2 also displayed consistently more robust and more frequent fastball movement relationships with velocity, horizontal break, and vertical break than group 1.

      Conclusions

      Reduced horizontal ball release distances at comparable vertical ball release heights without changes in the arm slot position suggest that pitchers with a history of grade I or II UCL injury have greater contralateral trunk tilt and elbow flexion at ball release. Increased contralateral trunk tilt may occur to increase pitch velocity at the expense of ball movement while placing the pitching elbow in a potentially injurious position. Computerized fastball profile analysis using a computerized pitch tracking device, in conjunction with coach pitching technique observation, and team medical staff clinical examination may help better identify pitchers with an increased risk of UCL injury.

      Type of study/level of evidence

      Diagnostic II.

      Key words

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