Is Pitching Bad for Your Arm?

Protect Your Arm: Understanding the Risks and Preventing Injuries in Pitching
Written by Mark Bailey
Last updated on

Pitching is a fundamental part of baseball, but it comes with concerns about arm health. Explore the mechanics and risks of pitching and how it can potentially affect your arm over time.

  • Pitching involves a series of complex movements, with multiple muscle groups working together and high forces placed on the arm’s structures.
  • Common injuries associated with pitching include rotator cuff tendinitis, shoulder impingement syndrome, biceps tendinitis, ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) tears, and flexor-pronator muscle strains. Overuse, improper technique, and fatigue can increase the risk of injury.
  • Prevention of pitching injuries requires proper technique, training/conditioning programs, pitch counts, and rest/recovery. Treatment depends on the severity and may involve rest or physical therapy; more severe injuries require surgery like Tommy John surgery for UCL injuries.
  • Innovations in equipment/technology and changes in coaching are helping reduce the risk of injury, while advancements in protective gear also help with absorbing impact.

The mechanics of pitching

Pitching is a highly complex and technical skill that involves precise biomechanics. The pitcher must generate sufficient force to propel the ball toward the plate while maintaining control and accuracy. The process involves a chain of events that begins with the windup and ends with the ball’s release. The pitcher’s lower body provides the foundation for the motion, with the leg drive generating the majority of the force. The arm then follows in a smooth and fluid motion, culminating in the release of the ball.

The forces placed on the arm during pitching can be immense, and the risk of injury increases with the intensity and frequency of the pitching motion. The act of throwing involves the transfer of kinetic energy from the lower body to the arm, with the arm acting as a lever. The force of the throw places stress on the structures of the arm, including the bones, muscles, tendons, and ligaments. The forces involved can be as high as 7000 Newtons, which is equivalent to the weight of a small car. 

During the cocking phase, the muscles of the rotator cuff contract to stabilize the shoulder joint while the arm is brought back in preparation for the throw. This phase places a significant amount of stress on the structures of the arm, including the tendons and ligaments. The acceleration phase involves the generation of power and velocity, with the larger muscles of the arm working in conjunction with the rotator cuff muscles to propel the ball forward. This phase generates the highest amount of force on the arm, with the elbow joint being particularly susceptible to injury.

Different types of pitches can have varying impacts on the arm. For instance, the fastball, which is thrown with maximum velocity, can cause more stress on the arm than other pitches. The curveball, which requires a twisting motion of the wrist and forearm, can lead to elbow and forearm injuries if not executed correctly. The slider, which is similar to the curveball but with more lateral movement, can also place significant stress on the elbow joint. Additionally, the changeup, which is thrown with less velocity, can be used as a tool to reduce stress on the arm and maintain arm health over time.

The risks associated with pitching

While pitching can be a rewarding and exhilarating experience, it is not without its risks. Common injuries associated with pitching include rotator cuff tendinitis, shoulder impingement syndrome, biceps tendinitis, ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) tears, and flexor-pronator muscle strains. Overuse, improper technique, inadequate warm-up, or fatigue can cause these injuries. Pitchers are particularly susceptible to these types of injuries due to the repetitive nature of the motion and the high forces placed on the arm.

The long-term consequences of pitching injuries can be severe. UCL tears, for example, can require surgery and up to a year of rehabilitation, and even then, pitchers may never fully regain their former level of performance. Chronic injuries can also lead to arthritis, which can cause pain and stiffness in the joint and limit a pitcher’s range of motion. In some cases, chronic injuries can even lead to chronic pain, mobility issues, premature retirement from the sport, and even depression later in life.

Overuse is a significant risk factor for pitching injuries, as it can place undue stress on the arm and increase the likelihood of developing injuries. Pitchers who throw too often or exceed recommended pitch counts are at higher risk of developing injuries. Additionally, pitchers who play year-round without adequate rest and recovery time can experience increased stress on their arm, leading to fatigue and an increased risk of injury.

Pitching injuries have a long history in baseball, with many players over the years experiencing career-altering injuries. Perhaps one of baseball’s most well-known pitching injuries is the “Tommy John” surgery, which involves reconstructing the UCL. The surgery is named after former major league pitcher Tommy John, who was the first player to undergo the procedure in 1974. Since then, the surgery has become more prevalent, with many players undergoing the procedure each year.

Prevention and treatment for pitching injuries

Preventing pitching injuries requires a multi-faceted approach that involves proper technique, training and conditioning, pitch counts, and rest and recovery. Proper technique is essential to reducing the stress placed on the arm during pitching. 

Pitchers should work with coaches and trainers to ensure that their mechanics are sound and not putting undue strain on their arm. Training and conditioning programs can help pitchers build strength and flexibility, which can reduce the risk of injury. Pitch counts are also an essential tool for preventing injuries, with guidelines developed to help ensure that pitchers are not overworked. Finally, rest and recovery are crucial to maintaining arm health, with pitchers encouraged to take time off between games and practices to allow the arm to recover.

Injuries can still occur despite taking preventive measures. Treatment for pitching injuries can vary depending on the severity of the injury. Rest and physical therapy are often the first lines of treatment, with pitchers encouraged to take time off from throwing and work with a physical therapist to improve mobility and strength. More severe injuries may require surgery, such as Tommy John surgery for UCL injuries. Recovery can be a slow process, with pitchers gradually working their way back to full strength.

Medical professionals play a vital role in preventing and treating pitching injuries. Team physicians and athletic trainers work closely with players to monitor their health and identify potential issues early on. Physical therapists and orthopedic surgeons are also integral to the recovery process, helping players regain strength and mobility and, in some cases, performing surgery to repair damaged structures. By working together, medical professionals can help ensure the health and longevity of a player’s career and prevent the long-term consequences of injuries.

Ultimately, a collaborative approach between players, coaches, and medical professionals is essential to promoting arm health and preventing injuries in baseball.

The future of pitching and arm health

As concerns over pitching injuries continue to grow, the future of pitching and arm health is becoming an increasingly important topic in baseball. Innovations in equipment and technology are helping to reduce the risk of injury and promote a healthier approach to the sport. 

For example, advancements in protective gear, such as padded elbow sleeves and shoulder pads, can help absorb impact and reduce the risk of injury. Some pitchers now also use weighted balls during training to improve strength and conditioning. Additionally, new technology, such as wearable sensors and motion-capture systems, can help players and coaches analyze pitching mechanics and identify areas for improvement. 

Changes in training and coaching are also on the horizon. With a greater emphasis on injury prevention and recovery, coaches and trainers are developing new techniques and strategies to help keep players healthy. For example, some teams are experimenting with alternative training methods, such as yoga and pilates, to improve strength, flexibility, and balance. Additionally, pitch counts and rest periods are becoming more standardized to help reduce the risk of overuse injuries. Moreover, coaches are placing a greater emphasis on proper technique and mechanics, with some even incorporating injury prevention programs into their training regimens.

The potential impact of arm injuries in baseball is a significant concern. As the incidence of injuries continues to rise, there is a risk of losing talented players to injury and reducing the overall quality of the game. In recent years, there has been a trend towards specialization in pitching, with some players pitching only a few innings per game. This approach can reduce the risk of injury, but it can also have a negative impact on the game. With longer games and less variety in pitching styles, it could impact the sport’s popularity.

Additionally, the cost of treating injuries can be substantial, with some estimates placing the cost of a single UCL reconstruction surgery at over $20,000. The money spent for treatment and recovery for injured pitchers will be a huge step toward upgrading facilities and systems in MLB.

Overall, the future of pitching and arm health in baseball is a complex and evolving issue. Continued innovations in equipment and technology, changes in training and coaching, and a focus on injury prevention and treatment will all play crucial roles in promoting a healthy approach to the sport. 


What pitch is hardest on the arm?

While breaking balls such as curveballs and sliders can put additional stress on the elbow joint, the fastball is often considered the pitch that generates the most force on the arm. Fastballs are typically thrown with maximum effort and generate high levels of velocity, often reaching over 90 mph. This high velocity requires the pitcher to generate significant force through their arm, putting a considerable amount of stress on the tendons, ligaments, and muscles of the arm and shoulder.

Additionally, pitchers may be more prone to overuse injuries with the fastball, as it is often their go-to pitch and is thrown more frequently than other pitches. As with any pitch, proper technique and conditioning are crucial for injury prevention, but the high velocity and frequency of fastballs can make it particularly challenging to maintain a healthy arm over the long term.

Should your arm be sore after pitching?

Some soreness after pitching is normal, particularly in the first few days after a game or practice. However, persistent or severe pain should be taken seriously and evaluated by a medical professional. Rest, ice, and stretching can help reduce soreness and promote recovery, but it is essential to listen to your body and avoid pushing through pain.

How do I keep my pitching arm healthy?

Keeping your pitching arm healthy requires a multi-faceted approach. Proper technique and mechanics are crucial, as poor form can put additional stress on the arm and lead to injuries. Pitchers should also focus on training and conditioning to improve strength, flexibility, and endurance. Rest and recovery are also essential, with proper rest between games and practices allowing the body to recover and repair. Additionally, seeking prompt treatment for any injuries or pain is crucial to maintaining a healthy arm for the long term.


Pitching is a complex and physically demanding activity that can significantly impact the arm. While pitching is not inherently bad for the arm, the high force and repetitive nature of the activity can lead to a variety of injuries, from mild soreness to more severe conditions such as rotator cuff tears and UCL injuries. Understanding the anatomy and mechanics of the arm, as well as the risks associated with pitching, is critical for injury prevention and maintaining a healthy arm over the long term. 

By prioritizing proper technique, training and conditioning, and rest and recovery, pitchers can reduce the risk of injury and enjoy a long and successful career in baseball. As the field of arm health continues to evolve, it is important for players, coaches, and medical professionals to collaborate and embrace new technologies and training methods to promote a healthy and sustainable approach to the sport.

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