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Tommy John Surgery – Get Back to Throwing

Ulnar Collateral Ligament Reconstruction Surgery
By Rueben Nair, MD

Tommy John SurgeryWhether from overuse or pitching for an extended period of time, elbow injuries are becoming more common in both professional and amateur athletes. As a solution for such injuries, Tommy John Surgery can be recommended to patients who are experiencing symptoms and who have tried other forms of therapy without success.  At DuPage Medical Group, our providers are trained to treat patients from surgery through therapy, helping you get back into the game.  

What is Tommy John Surgery?

Tommy John surgery was first performed by Dr. Frank Jobe in 1974 on Tommy John, a pitcher for the LA Dodgers, giving the procedure its name. Tommy John Surgery, known more formally as Ulnar Collateral Ligament Reconstruction, is the surgical procedure used to replace a torn or stretched elbow ligament in athletes who have injured themselves due to overuse or stress. The ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) is located on the inside of the elbow and connects the bone of the upper arm (humerus) to the bone of the forearm (ulna). During the surgery, a tendon from elsewhere in the body is used to reconstruct the torn or ruptured UCL.

How does a UCL injury develop?

Although there are many factors that may contribute to a UCL injury, the single most prominent factor is overuse. While anyone can get a UCL injury from overuse, baseball pitchers are at the highest risk. This is due to the twisting and bending movements involved in the throwing motion, which puts extreme stress on the elbow ligament.  Over time, and with continual use and stress, the ligament stretches and tears to the point where it can no longer join bones tightly enough during throwing activities.

Other factors that may contribute to pitching UCL injuries include pitching while fatigued, poor mechanics, playing catcher when not pitching and pitching multiple days in a row.

What are some symptoms of a UCL injury?

  • Pain on the inside of the elbow
  • A sense of looseness or instability in the elbow
  • Tingling or numbness in the small finger or ring finger
  • Decreased ability to throw a baseball or other object

How soon are pitchers able to return to play baseball after Tommy John Surgery?

The average pitcher returns to the game in about 12-16 months following surgery, however, recovery times will vary by individual. Recovery times will also be influenced by the severity of the injury and when the surgery is performed in the context of the baseball season. Players, parents and coaches should remember that each injury is unique and has its own timeline for recovery. 

While you can try and avoid Tommy John surgery by using proper throwing mechanics, maintaining pitch counts and stopping pitching when fatigued, if you do need medical care or would like more information about Tommy John Surgery, please contact our orthopaedics department at 630-790-1872 or schedule an appointment online

 

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