MONDAY, April 13, 2015 (HealthDay News) -- The strength of a baseball pitcher's arm muscles may play a larger role in elbow injury risk and prevention than previously thought, a new study suggests.
"Muscles matter in baseball. We showed that a pitcher could be at a really high risk or a really low risk of elbow injury, depending on how strong and capable his muscles are," study author James Buffi, a recent Ph.D. biomedical engineering graduate from Northwestern University, said in a school news release.
To reach their conclusions, biomedical engineers developed and used a new computer simulation to analyze what a player's muscles do when they pitch and how the muscles affect injury risk.
The new computer simulation may one day provide pitchers with more personalized feedback and help prevent elbow injuries, according to the researchers.
They said the current motion analysis method used to provide pitchers with injury-risk assessments is not sophisticated enough to gauge what an individual pitcher's muscles are doing during a pitch or how his or her muscles may influence injury risk.
"Pitching is an extreme and difficult motion," study senior author Wendy Murray, an associate professor of biomedical engineering, said in the news release.
"Pitchers are literally throwing so hard that the motion itself acts to tear the elbow joint apart. But why doesn't it? The answer is the strength of the muscles and the ligaments. That's what keeps the bones together," she explained.
Buffi pointed out that elbow injuries are a huge problem in baseball.
"Our study shows that muscles play a part. If you're not accounting for muscles, even if you know the total elbow load on a pitcher, he could be at a really high risk or a really low risk of injury depending on how strong and capable his muscles are," he added.
The study was published online recently in the journal Annals of Biomedical Engineering.
The American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine has more about overuse injuries in baseball.