Longtime readers of this blog know that I am obsessed with technical and anatomical precision – and in many cases, the message can be lost upon your average reader. However, I try to summarize all of my jargon into an immediately understandable conclusion at the end of long articles like Elbow Injuries and What Causes Them.
One of my clients brought up the fact that I don’t have a very basic article on elbow injuries and wrist weights on our site, and that I should rectify this problem as soon as possible. He’s a huge believer in wrist weights (and so are we), and he had a very, very good layman’s way of explaining how elbow injuries (notably UCL tears) occur. It impressed me so much that I’m going to absolutely plagiarize, steal, and copy it for everyone’s enjoyment here on the blog.
Please note that this article has some inconsistencies and not iron-clad language – but it is meant for you to send to your pitching coach, friends, and other people who won’t immediately turn their brains off due to complex language.
So, without further ado…
A Basic Understanding of How Pitchers Hurt Their Elbows
The primary reason pitchers require Tommy John Surgery (TJS) is because the elbow joint is constantly being dislocated in the pitching delivery. The Tommy John ligament ties the lower arm and upper arm together, and when the lower arm is pushed away from the upper arm due to mechanical flaws, this stresses the ligament. Over time, this causes the ligament to stretch out and lose strength, and can eventually cause the ligament to rupture.
Imagine that the ligament is the chain between a pair of nunchucks:
Except also imagine that the chain is more like a piece of shoelace – fairly strong at first, but can be weakened over time by stretching it out constantly.
A big flaw in the pitching delivery involves stress being applied to the side of the arm. If you swing the nunchucks in a long, sideways arc away from your body, you can imagine that the stick furthest away from the body is moving very fast and pulling the chain/shoelace quickly away from the other stick. This stress is what causes the Tommy John ligament to stretch out and eventually rupture.
How Wrist Weights Help Reduce the Chance of an Elbow Injury
Wrist weights work in two different ways to help reduce elbow injuries:
- Increasing the strength and endurance of the forearm muscles
- Improving mechanics
By doing specific wrist weight work, you can train the muscles in the lower arm. The muscles in the lower arm attach to the elbow and are responsible for helping to keep the elbow joint stable. Heavy work like deadlifts, rows, and grip work help to train this area, but it is also important to train the lower arm muscles in a sport-specific manner for maximum carryover to the pitching delivery.
Additionally, when done properly, wrist weight work helps to smooth out the arm acceleration phase of the pitching delivery and to reduce the chance that the lower arm “casts” away from the upper arm. This reduces stress and decreases the chance of elbow dislocation as well.
Get a pair of wrist weights, learn how to use them (like we do in the MaxVelo program), and you can help reduce the chance of suffering an elbow injury.
Again, please note that this article was heavily simplified to increase readability. Please consult the following more technical articles for additional information:
- Elbow Injuries and What Causes Them (Stephen Strasburg Bonus Content)
- Biomechanics: Ulnar Collateral Ligament
- Relationship between throwing mechanics and elbow valgus in professional baseball pitchers
- Strasburg, the Inverted W, and Pitching Mechanics
- The Effect of Loading Rate
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