Softball has become an increasingly popular sport for young athletes. With the advent of Title IX, the popularity of televised collegiate softball games, and the inclusion of softball in the Olympics, the interest in the sport has exploded. Unlike in baseball, many softball teams utilize only one or two pitchers during the season. There is a common perception that softball pitchers are at a low-risk of injury, and that overuse injuries are much less of a concern compared to their overhead pitching counterparts.
Belief #1: Softball pitchers are rarely injured
Softball pitchers can be injured just as often as their baseball counterparts. In a study of 181 collegiate softball pitchers, authors found 73 percent of pitchers had obtained an injury during the season. Eighty injuries were directly related to pitching, and 11 required surgery.1 In another study of high-level softball pitchers, authors found that 45 percent of the pitching staff had to miss time during the season due to injury. Most injuries reported involved the front of the shoulder, including the biceps, and rotator cuff.
Belief #2: Softball pitching places less stress on the arm than baseball pitching
Biomechanical studies of the softball pitching motion demonstrate a 5–20 percent decrease in force on the shoulder compared to an overhand throw, and a 20–35 percent decrease in force on the elbow. While these numbers are decreased compared to their baseball counterparts, these numbers are not trivial. The forces on the shoulder during a softball pitch can be as high as 98 percent of the pitchers body weight. The windmill force of the softball pitch can easily lead to injury, especially when done repetitively. Interestingly, biomechanical studies demonstrate that the more novice the athlete, the greater the reliance on the shoulder and arm when pitching, likely increasing injury risk in the younger, less experienced athlete.
Emphasis on appropriate conditioning and mechanics along with future studies on pitch counts and volume may serve to decrease the risk of injury in this unique population..