Understanding Tommy John Surgery: A Comprehensive Guide for Baseball Players

Health Articles

Mar 28, 2024

photo of a baseball pitcher and the words tommy john surgery

As the baseball season kicks off, players, coaches, and parents must be aware of the common injuries that can sideline athletes. One of the most well-known procedures in baseball is Tommy John surgery, named after the Major League Baseball pitcher who first underwent the operation. In this blog post, we'll dive into the details of Tommy John surgery, its risks, and prevention strategies.

What is Tommy John Surgery?
Tommy John surgery reconstructs the ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) in the elbow. This ligament is significantly stressed during the throwing motion, particularly for pitchers. The surgery involves replacing the torn ligament with tissue from the patient's body, typically from the wrist or knee region or, in some cases, from a cadaver.

Who is at Risk?
While Tommy John surgery is most common among high-level baseball players, especially pitchers, it can affect players at all levels. The injury often occurs gradually, with symptoms such as decreased velocity, accuracy, and overall performance. Players may sometimes feel a sudden pop in the elbow, indicating an acute injury.

The Rehabilitation Process
Recovery from Tommy John surgery is a lengthy process, typically lasting 6-12 months. The initial phase involves immobilizing the elbow to allow healing, followed by a gradual return to range-of-motion exercises and strengthening. The player can begin a throwing program only after completing these phases, slowly working their way back to full-speed pitching.

Risks and Complications
As with any surgery, Tommy John surgery carries certain risks. These include failure of the reconstruction, re-injury during the rehabilitation process, and potential irritation of nearby nerves. Players must follow their surgeon's post-operative instructions closely and progress through the rehabilitation program appropriately.

Emerging Treatments
While Tommy John surgery remains the gold standard for UCL tears, new treatments are emerging. One such procedure is internal bracing, which involves using collagen-dipped sutures to support the native ligament as it heals. This technique is gaining popularity for acute traumatic injuries and may offer a faster return to play.

Watch a Video By Dr. Sablan on Tommy Johns 

Prevention Strategies
Preventing UCL injuries should be a top priority for baseball players and coaches. Some key strategies include:

1. Proper warm-up routines
2. Core strengthening exercises
3. Maintaining shoulder flexibility, particularly internal rotation
4. Focusing on scapular stabilizer muscles

Players can reduce their risk of UCL injuries and other throwing-related issues by incorporating these strategies into training regimens.

If you suspect you may have a UCL injury or are experiencing elbow pain, don't hesitate to contact the experts at Tidewater Orthopedics. Our team of orthopedic surgeons, including sports medicine specialist Dr. Nicholas Sablan, is here to help you get back in the game safely. Call us at 757-827-2480 or click the book now button to make an appointment. 

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