Baseball Biomechanics Study Featured in Chicago Tribune
Professor Wendy Murray’s motion analysis focuses on the role muscles play in pitchers’ elbow injuries
Elbow injuries have become commonplace for baseball pitchers at all levels. And while procedures like Tommy John surgery have become routine and effective, the road to recovery is long.
With a player’s health seemingly hinging on every throw, a new study from Northwestern biomedical engineers finds that the strength of a pitcher’s elbow muscles likely plays a bigger role in the risk and prevention of ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) injuries than previously thought. The research was recently featured in the Chicago Tribune.
PhD graduate James Buffi teamed with Wendy Murray, associate professor of biomedical engineering at Northwestern’s McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science, to develop a new computer model that could study how different levels of strength in muscles surrounding the elbow joint impact the stress a traditional pitching motion places on the UCL.
The researchers’ model was built using a digital recreation of an actual high school pitcher’s throwing motion, the geometric measurements of bones, muscles, and ligaments in cadavers, and the muscle volume and strength in living test subjects.
“Our simulations illustrate that if the muscles were doing nothing, then the bones that make up the elbow joint could have been pulled apart during that single pitch,” Murray said. “In contrast, we also were able to implement reasonable assumptions about muscle performance that showed how the very same pitch could result in no load on the UCL at all.”