Is Baseball Pitching Worse on Your Arm Than Softball?
Throwing is one of the most fundamental skills of baseball and softball. The pitcher in both sports is widely considered the most important defensive position and plays a big part in determining a game's aftermath. There's even the infamous saying supposedly by Connie Mack that "pitching is 75 percent of baseball". Knowing how to throw well is essential. Read on to find out the differences between baseball and softball pitching and, more importantly, what you can do to prevent injuries as a baseball player.
How are baseball and softball pitches different?
Technique: Baseball pitches are overhand, while softball pitches, also known as windmill pitches, are underhand.
Distance: Baseball pitchers throw from 60 feet while softball pitchers throw from 43 feet.
Speed: Baseball fastballs (the most common type of pitch) from Major League Baseball starting pitchers reach an average speed of 92.3 miles per hour. College softball pitchers throw fastballs that get rates ranging from 58-65 miles per hour.
How baseball and softball pitches affect your arm
Let's compare and contrast the impacts of the different pitching techniques on these three parts of the arm.
Many people point out that the overhand motion of baseball pitches is more unnatural to the rotator cuff. This knowledge contributed to the popular belief that softball pitchers can have more workloads and pitch more games than baseball players throughout the week. Although this is true to some extent, there is still potential for overuse in softball pitching. More studies are focused on the impacts of baseball pitching, so future research that addresses the effects of softball pitching is needed.
Therefore, we need to acknowledge that both baseball and softball pitchers are prone to shoulder injuries. Why? The body part that helps you raise your arm is the rotator cuff. It is made up of muscles and tendons (tissue that connects muscle to bone) that connect the upper arm bone (humeral head or the "ball") and a part of your shoulder blade (glenoid or the "socket") to form your shoulder joint. When you constantly pitch in baseball or softball, you strain and tear the muscles and tendons in the rotator cuff.
The elbow is where the effects of baseball and softball pitching diverge. There are more elbow injuries in baseball than softball because of its overhand technique, notably ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) tears.
The UCL that connects the upper arm (humerus) and a forearm bone (ulna) at the elbow helps stabilize your arm when you throw. As mentioned before, baseball pitchers throw at higher speeds than softball pitchers. The pitching record for baseball is 105.1 miles per hour, while the softball record is 77 miles per hour.
The two main reasons for this difference are:
Distance: The shorter distance gap (43 feet) allows the softball pitch to reach home base much faster than a baseball pitch (60 feet). Therefore, a 70 mile per hour softball fastball can compare to a "low" 90 mile per hour baseball fastball.
Technique: The windmill motion of a softball pitch can't reach the high speeds of an overhand baseball pitch. Softball was initially invented to be a safer, slower-paced game than baseball that could be played indoors when the weather was terrible.
Since pitchers are so influential on the defensive side of a baseball game, there's a growing demand to improve throwing velocity, and baseball throwing programs are rising. Softball doesn't have the same demand because it's already hard to bat a softball from a shorter distance and reaction time.
So, as pitching velocities rapidly increase in baseball, more players are overusing their elbows, experiencing elbow pain, and risking UCL tears that often require the infamous Tommy John surgery.
While baseball pitches put a lot of stress on the elbow, softball's windmill pitches put more pressure on the biceps, the muscle on the front part of the upper arm. This fact is not well-known and undermined by the widespread belief that softball pitches are not stressful to the arm. In a study by the Rush University Medical Center, the researchers found that when a softball pitch had the same velocity as a baseball pitch, the softball player's muscle force was much higher.
According to the study, the maximum force occurred when the arm was mainly straightened to the back and when the arm was perpendicular to the ground. The picture below that shows different steps to a softball pitch helps visualize this action.
Consequently, as seen in baseball, the biceps take the brunt of the throwing force and stress instead of the elbow. As mentioned earlier, since softball players tend to play more games than baseball players, they risk overusing their biceps and could injure their tendons. However, the most significant difference is that the muscles and tendons can be strengthened and healed quickly because of their plentiful blood supply. There are more workouts out there than target muscles than ligaments. This advantage can help avoid further injuries. Meanwhile, baseball players' injured ligaments (such as the UCL) don't have as much access to blood and nutrients since these tissues attach bone to bone.
Looking at what we've discussed so far, it is reasonable to conclude that baseball pitching is worse on the arm than softball because of its overhand throwing technique and the game's higher demand for rapid fastballs.
How can you prevent injury?
Now that you know that baseball pitchers are more prone to arm injuries, here are a few ways to keep yourself healthy and safe while playing this demanding game.
Warm-up before pitching
Even though this is simple and commonly given advice, we want to emphasize how important it is to seriously take the time to warm up before you do anything else. This means:
- Stretching your shoulders, arms, and chest
- Playing catch for arm strength and mobility
- Sweat a little before the actual practice, so your muscles are warm and ready to move
Follow pitch counts
Once you start practicing, make sure you are not pushing your limits and exceeding pitch counts. This is especially important for younger players, whose bodies are not fully developed yet.
Attend a flexibility or mobility training program
Working on your flexibility through these programs will help increase your range of motion. This means that it is less likely for your ligaments to tear suddenly. This is a great way to use your body's full potential and achieve great results without constantly risking injuries.
Attend a preseason conditioning program
A baseball conditioning program will help you increase muscle endurance or your muscles' ability to recover and withstand trauma and fatigue. Conditioning should mainly focus on your shoulders but also the lower back and core. Players should start their conditioning 8-12 weeks before the start of the season.
The form is as important as velocity.
As mentioned earlier, baseball pitchers are hyper-focused on increasing their throwing velocity to gain an advantage during games. But velocity doesn't directly lead to success, contrary to the famous baseball narrative. Here are the benefits of proper pitching form:
- Increased efficiency in executing pitches
- Decreases strain on the body
- It also leads to good outcomes
Don't ignore the pain or symptoms.
In other words, listen to your body and know your limits. When you feel any abnormal or reoccurring pain and discomfort (especially in the inner elbow or shoulder area), control yourself and stop before the injury can get worse.
Hopefully, now you know the main differences between baseball and softball pitching, how they affect your arms, and how to reduce the risk of injury. Here are the key takeaways:
- Baseball and softball pitches differ by their:
- How their different techniques affect the arms:
- Both sports can be detrimental to your shoulder and rotator cuff.
- Baseball is worse on the elbow and UCL because of its overhand technique.
- Softball windmill pitches are worse on the biceps.
- Conclusion: In general, baseball is worse on the arm than a softball, but softball pitchers can still get injured with overuse. There have been a lot of studies done on baseball injuries, not softball ones. More research is needed for a clearer picture.
- Prevent injury by:
- Warming up
- Attending baseball conditioning and flexibility programs
- Focusing on form and not the only velocity
- Take immediate action
Good luck with your baseball pitching journey, and remember that your health and safety come first before increasing the number on the radar gun.
Be sure to check out Ryan Weiss'sWeiss's coaching program and his other training programs to elevate your game.