We are headed for a serious “Come to Jesus” moment.
“The underhand motion is natural so it doesn’t hurt the pitchers shoulder!”
We have all heard this old sage a million times. We have used this to justify the craziness that goes on every weekend all season long. It leads to the folklore feelings we have each spring when we watch an amazing college pitcher pitch several thousand pitches in the Women’s College World Series.
The American Journal of Sports Medicine published a study done by several doctors from Washington University where they examined the effects of pitching multiple days in a tournament. They set out to study fatigue and pain associated with pitching several days in a row and what they found was very interesting, and not good news for the way we have managed pitchers for years.
Their conclusion was clear. Pitching multiple days did lead to significant fatigue and pain in pitchers aged 14 to 18 years old. Testing was done before the tournament started, at the end of day one and then followed each day of the tournament. As the pitches accumulated so did the pain, fatigue, loss of velocity and potential for long term damage.
We always held onto the idea that underhand and windmill motion was less strenuous than overhand throwing. This study calls that assumption into serious doubt and explains where the windmill motion creates great strain on the shoulder and elbow.
The bottom line is a simple one: Pitching hurts the arm and rest is needed for softball pitchers just like it is for baseball pitchers.
Now before you try to defend our old position please hear this. This study had pitcher throwing multiple days but still with much less workload than most pitchers are really working at. This study had pitchers throwing in the 100 pitch per day range on multiple days. At this work rate pitchers still experienced all the symptoms discussed.
And we all know that many, many pitchers are throwing several hundred pitches a day, day after day, on a very regular basis. This study also looked at the effects of pitching two or three days in a row but we all know that most kids are pitching much more often than that.
In many events pitchers are throwing four or five days in row. You mix in practice, lessons, warm up, and the overhand throwing they are doing we have potential for serious problems for a lot of kids.
I was one of the worst overworkers of pitchers, ever, and never thought I was doing anything wrong. Bonnie Bynum pitched for me at Tennessee Tech and was clearly one of the best pitchers that mid-major college softball has ever seen. One year, she threw over 350 innings. She always pitched all of game 1 on Saturday, often closed game 2 on Saturday and then pitched all of the game on Sunday. And of course pitched a game or two during the week.
We need to take a good hard look at what we are learning about the physical demands of pitching. We need to cut back on the number of pitches we ask pitchers to throw. We need to develop pitching staffs where we can use several pitchers effectively to still achieve our goals. It’s time!!
Special thanks to Kaitlyn Miles, M.S., LAT, ATC ,who is a part of our Fastpitch prep family for sharing this study with me!
About the Author: Tory Acheson brings a wealth of knowledge to the Fastpitch Prep staff. He has coached at all levels of the game, including the last 25 years at the college level at the University of Wisconsin – Parkside, Tennessee Tech and Kennesaw State. He began his coaching career at the high school level spending 9 years Whitnall High School in Greenfield, Wis. and is now working as a professional softball instructor.