The best-kept records on the “”ball-thrower’s fracture” of the humerus comes from articles published in Orthopaedic Journals and Journals of the Skeletal Society. The first reported case was in 1805 and in 1895 a 16-year-old boy had a humeral fracture after throwing a stone. By 1906 there were 57 such reports in the literature. In 1971 there were reports of 129 humeral spiral fractures following the throwing of hand grenades. In 1998 there were reports of 90 baseball players who sustained humeral fractures while throwing.
The first reported case of the humeral fracture in major league baseball was in 1884 and this plague continues today. My first experience with the humeral fracture began when I received a letter from Steve in Arizona. He had responded to my web page set up for injured baseball players. Steve had been a college pitcher and during the summer of 2004, his 12-year-old son had fractured his humerus on the first pitch in a select baseball game. Both father and son were afraid to throw hard overhand again, because no one had told them what had caused the fracture. Ryan just threw underhanded from center field, which gave runners on base a distinct advantage. Steve summoned me to come to Arizona to work with his son Ryan in March 2005.
I was able to show Ryan the error in his pitching biomechanics that caused the fracture and got him into his natural throwing groove. On the third day, I took a video of Ryan throwing from shortstop to first base. I made only a slight adjustment in his pitching biomechanics and Ryan was set. During the 2006 season, Ryan started in centerfield as a freshman and acted as a closer on the varsity baseball team. His fastball was clocked at 87 mph from the mound and the pro scout in the area told his coach that Ryan was number three in his age group in all of Arizona. Ryan will never break his humerus again while throwing a ball.
Most players have a fear of throwing hard again after a serious injury, because no one tells them what caused their injury which is not from overuse. Some players have fractured their humerus or had a serious injury after a coach changed their throwing biomechanics for better control or added velocity.
Karate teaches us the legs have seven times the power the arms have and all power and velocity comes from the legs. When you are not in your natural throwing groove, even throwing at seventy percent can cause a serious injury to the arm, shoulder or elbow. When making a biomechanical error in your delivery, an acute one-throw injury can occur, or repetitive injuries can occur when a smaller error is committed. Repetitive injuries may take years before surgery is required to relieve the pain or damage to the arm.
Many players that fractured their humerus when throwing have dropped out of baseball, because the pain and fear was so great and no one could tell them what caused their injury. When throwing from your natural throwing groove a player can make over four hundred throws in a single workout with no stress, pain, soreness or threat of injury. I am sure many have heard of the Devil Ray’s Tony Saunders. He broke his humerus two different times while pitching from the mound during a game. His first humeral fracture came while he was pitching against the Texas Rangers. After the second break, his orthopedic surgeon said, “The humerus had healed completely, how it happened again I don’t know. I can’t even venture a guess.”
May 2000, Greg Stimack had a humeral fracture while pitching at Eastern New Mexico University. Greg told me he had Tommy John surgery earlier and his doctor said, ”His elbow was so much stronger now the humerus could not stand the added velocity and this is why the humerus broke.
January 11, 2005, I received a letter from William Conroy, age 20 who was playing baseball at a junior college in Pennsylvania when he fractured his humerus during practice. He said, “I had been getting pain in my inner elbow for a while. We were throwing a medicine ball and my arm cracked and it made a pretty loud noise. I continued to throw. The next day I was pitching and my coach asked me to try to extend my arm more at my release. I did, but on the next pitch, my arm broke and just dangled there. When I got to the hospital, the X-rays showed I had two breaks. One was broken completely through and the other was a diagonal crack or spiral fracture of the humerus. Surgery was not required. I was released April 21, but I have a huge fear of this happening again for nobody knows what caused the break.”
September 1, 2005, Richard Hernandez wrote that he had fractured his humerus while playing in a softball game. He fielded a routine base hit in left field and just lobbed it into the cut-off man throwing at about 70% and his humerus snapped. He had played in about 500 baseball games and never had any problem other that a sore arm every once in a while. He loves softball, and would love to be able to play without fear.
October 2005, Gary Gilkenson, age 19 wrote and said, “I was at a carnival trying to see if I could break the 80 mph barrier and my humerus broke. The doctors put a steel plate in my arm with screws and a cast.” I wrote to The Throw Center for more information. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all.
November 2005, Patrick Reilly, age 26 wrote telling us he broke his humerus pitching in an old timers game in Boston, Mass. His delivery is sidearm. It makes no difference for when you make an error in your throwing biomechanics stress, pain, soreness or injuries will occur.
In 2005, Adams parents in Wisconsin wrote that Adam, age 18 fractured his humerus on his first pitch in fall ball during his freshman year in college in 2004. I informed the parents that I could help get him into his natural throwing groove, but they said they would let his college coaches help him. Several months later, they wrote that he had another humeral fracture above the first break. After healing, they flew Coach Price to Wisconsin to work with Adam for three days. Adam is now set and will never break his humerus again while throwing.
During the summer of 2004, Christian wrote that he had sustained a humeral fracture while pitching in a game on the weekends. He was in the US Marines stationed in South Carolina. The doctors had attached a ten inch steel plate onto his humerus and said Christian would never pitch again. Christians desire was to pitch in college one day. After completing a tour of duty in Iraq, Christian came to Athens in August 2006 for a week to work with Coach Price. I could not tell him he would make a college pitcher, but one thing is for sure, he will never break his humerus again while throwing a baseball. Christian will attempt to pitch in college in Pennsylvania during the 2007 season.
After reading case histories and articles found in orthopedic journals, and the many varied theories coming from doctors, I have come to one conclusion. You can’t use any of these theories to answer the cause of the humeral facture except in a few very rare cases. You can’t use any of these theories to correct a player’s throwing biomechanics for preventing the humeral fracture or a serious injury to the arm, shoulder or elbow.
Recovery from the broken humerus is the same as recovery from elbow or shoulder surgery for it takes time for healing. Rehabilitation is so much faster when the player understands what caused his injury and how to throw without pain or fear of injury when he begins to throw again. Many players with chronic pain when throwing have taken the option for surgery to relieve the pain. For many, all they needed was an adjustment in their throwing biomechanics and this can be done on one throw. During the 2005 season, one major league manager made this statement, “When a player has a sore elbow, I believe it is faster to operate on the elbow than to let it heal naturally.” Is this the belief in all of major league baseball today?
Many young baseball players that have chronic pain when throwing drop out of baseball and go to sports that don’t require throwing. Some coaches call this “burnout from year-round participation in one particular sport.” Many college coaches are saying the same thing.
I disagree entirely with the “burnout” theory. The player that loves baseball will do anything to keep playing including surgery, because the more situations he encounters, the better he will be prepared for the next level. Throwing from his natural throwing groove does not hurt the arm. I have worked with many high school players that have already had rotator cuff or Tommy John surgery and these injuries were not caused from overuse.
The throw Center believes that major league baseball has tried to ignore the humeral fracture for lack of understanding and information. This injury has been with major league baseball since 1884. Many needless surgeries are still with us today. Coach Price believes all stress, pain, soreness and injuries to the arm, shoulder and elbow are caused by errors in a players throwing biomechanics and can be corrected.