When high school baseball pitchers had frequent injuries from throwing the ball, two researchers started investigating where pain was coming from and why it was happening.
“We found that the number of injuries peaked early—only about four weeks in—and then slowly declined until the end of the season,” said James Onate, associate professor of health and rehabilitation sciences at the Jameson Crane Sports Medicine Institute. “We see a lot of kids who didn’t prepare in the off-season and, when their workload goes through the roof, they’re not prepared for the demand of throwing.”
In order to better assess the biomechanics behind overuse injuries, James Onate and Mike McNally, research associate at Ohio State University’s School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, designed a device that monitors a player’s movements to analyze their pitching posture.
The high-tech device is based on Bertec force plates that are set up with a pitching mound on top. When the pitcher throws the ball, the mound measures the force driven by the legs and arms by monitoring both the rubber area and landing area. This helps assess the pitcher’s throw and locates what the player should adjust to alleviate pain.
“We’re starting to pinpoint what’s going to be the personalized approach to an individual to be able to throw, and then tweak it from there,” said Onate. “The whole goal is to keep the kids safe to be able to do what they want to do.”
The concept of this device came from stair climbing assessments. Onate said using the force plates to monitor the rubber was the simple part, but figuring out how to get the ramp view on the landing of the pitch was more challenging. They used a combination model of platforms to create the ramp with integrated technology.
Currently, the pitching mound is still in their lab, which makes it a little tough to have it utilized by baseball teams, but Onate said there are many groups interested in the technology from a major league baseball organization standpoint.
“We’re actually working with a couple of different groups that are trying to develop this from a portable standpoint and use this in the field so you can get some information back for pitchers,” said Onate.
In addition to the pitching mound, they have also used a commercial sleeve made by Motus Global. The sleeve has a sensor in it that measures the stress and workload the arm is expending. With both the pitching mound and compression sleeve, they have been better equipped to monitor a player’s pitching stance to help alleviate injury. Although, Onate said the response from players is varied.
“Some really like it because they like all the information, and sometimes it’s just something they’re told to wear,” said Onate. “I think one of the things that it’s given some of the athletes is an awareness of how much they’re actually throwing.”
Onate said there are many ideas brewing for the future. One of them is to take the technology out of the Motus sleeve and incorporate it somewhere on the body. They have also discussed putting the technology into throwing garments, so it would be part of the actual uniform.
As of now, the pitching mound and Motus sleeve continue to be beneficial in providing valuable information to pitchers.
“The technology provides awareness to people, and that’s really what we’re trying to achieve,” said Onate. “The technology’s not supposed to take over, it’s helping with communication and this communication is key.”