Deficits in Glenohumeral Passive Range of Motion Increase Risk of Shoulder Injury in Professional Baseball Pitchers: A Prospective Study

Am J Sports Med. 2015 Oct;43(10):2379-85. doi: 10.1177/0363546515594380. Epub 2015 Aug 13.


Background: Shoulder injuries from repetitive baseball pitching continue to be a serious, common problem.

Purpose: To determine whether passive range of motion of the glenohumeral joint was predictive of shoulder injury or shoulder surgery in professional baseball pitchers.

Study design: Cohort study; Level of evidence, 2.

Methods: Passive range of motion of the glenohumeral joint was assessed with a bubble goniometer during spring training for all major and minor league pitchers of a single professional baseball organization over a period of 8 successive seasons (2005-2012). Investigators performed a total of 505 examinations on 296 professional pitchers. Glenohumeral external and internal rotation was assessed with the pitcher supine and the arm abducted to 90° in the scapular plane with the scapula stabilized anteriorly at the coracoid process. Total rotation was defined as the sum of internal and external glenohumeral rotation. Passive shoulder flexion was measured with the pitcher supine and the lateral border of the scapula manually stabilized. After examination, shoulder injuries and injury durations were recorded by each pitcher's respective baseball organization and reported to the league as an injury transaction as each player was placed on the disabled list.

Results: Highly significant side-to-side differences were noted within subjects for each range of motion measurement. There were 75 shoulder injuries and 20 surgeries recorded among 51 pitchers, resulting in 5570 total days on the disabled list. Glenohumeral internal rotation deficit, total rotation deficit, and flexion deficit were not significantly related to shoulder injury or surgery. Pitchers with insufficient external rotation (<5° greater external rotation in the throwing shoulder) were 2.2 times more likely to be placed on the disabled list for a shoulder injury (P = .014; 95% CI, 1.2-4.1) and were 4.0 times more likely to require shoulder surgery (P = .009; 95% CI, 1.5-12.6).

Conclusion: Insufficient shoulder external rotation on the throwing side increased the likelihood of shoulder injury and shoulder surgery. Sports medicine clinicians should be aware of these findings and develop a preventive plan that addresses this study's findings to reduce pitchers' risk of shoulder injury and surgery.

Keywords: external rotation; glenohumeral internal rotation deficit; labral repair; rotator cuff repair; total rotational motion.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Athletic Injuries / physiopathology*
  • Athletic Injuries / surgery
  • Baseball / injuries*
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Orthopedic Procedures / methods
  • Prospective Studies
  • Range of Motion, Articular / physiology*
  • Shoulder Injuries*
  • Shoulder Joint / physiopathology
  • Shoulder Joint / surgery