I'd like to introduce you to the ThrowMAX, a device that aims to cure improper throwing mechanics by forcing the pitching arm to conform to a specific angle and motion. Two questions should immediately come to mind. Is the goal appropriate? Does the product accomplish its goal?
After sifting through all of the marketing on their website (linked below) and ignoring their idea of good throwing mechanics to better focus on what the product actually does, one can find the pseudo-science used to justify the purchase and use of a ThrowMAX.
"Get your elbow up when you throw!!!" is the clear emphasis for this little contraption. According to the website, "the ThrowMAX alters the previous incorrect comfort zones of the throwing arm in order to take the stress off of the ligaments, elbow, growth plates, and shoulder." The device is supposed to force a pitcher to keep his elbow at or above his shoulder level and flexed to between 85 and 90 degrees.
We have now identified the product's goal: to take the stress off of the ligaments, elbow, growth plates, and shoulder by forcing the elbow to stay flexed between 85 and 90 degrees.
Is the goal appropriate?
It's really hard to argue with taking stress off of ligaments. This should be a goal for every athletic brace.
Taking stress away from the elbow and the shoulder are also admirable ideals. You can change how the stress is distributed across the two joints to place more stress on musculature rather than ligaments and bone. You can even limit stress by shortening the levers (i.e. bending your elbow to shorten the lever - the pitching arm - that extends from the shoulder).
Growth plates are an entirely different matter. The key growth plates in the pitching arm are on the humerus, and without getting too technical, you simply can not avoid applying stress to them. The only way to prevent growth plate injuries is to limit the number of high intensity pitches thrown by pitchers with immature growth plates.
Does the product accomplish its goal?
You can probably tell by the title of this post that the answer is a resounding, "No." The biggest and most obvious problem with this product is that elbow flexion has nothing to do with the position of the shoulder (glenohumeral) joint. Go ahead and bend your elbow to near 90 degrees. See how many different positions you can put your arm in - above your shoulder, below your shoulder, in front of your body, behind your body, and so on. As long as your elbow is flexed between 85 and 90 degrees, the ThrowMAX will tell you that you are throwing correctly no matter how high or low your elbow actually is.
There's also a key scientific fact missed in their discussion of how valgus stress ruins elbows. That fact is that valgus stress is at its peak when the elbow is flexed near 90 degrees1. This directly refutes their claim that the ThrowMAX reduces valgus stress. [This study and the physics that add to it are discussed in my article - Biomechanics: Ulnar Collateral Ligament.]
One thing that actually is accomplished is the shortening of the pitching arm lever which reduces horizontal flexion torque at the shoulder (glenohumeral) joint and helps limit stress in the anterior capsule.
Here's a brief list of other interesting claims from their website:
[T]he brace actually shows how to throw a curve, riser, sinker without damaging arms. This is because on [sic] all of these "junk" throws still must use some type of proper arm slot.
[T]he weakest point in the arm is the elbow area... The shoulder is the second weakest area...
[O]nce players learn to throw correctly [sic] they learn to recognize a throw based off of arm slot, [sic] or rotation of the ball. Using these skills, players can learn to hit with more consistency because they will begin to accurately recognize what's being thrown.
Since the brace has the body go through the full-range of motions on every throw, coaches cannot arm the ball meaning they won't get tired and drop the elbow leading to pain.
To have a look at this questionable product for yourself, click here, but please, don't buy this.
Do you know of another stupid pitching product out there? Tell me about it.
- Morrey BF, An KN. Articular and ligamentous contributions to the stability of the elbow joint. Am J Sports Med. 1983; 11:315-9.