Tommy John Surgery FAQ
If you follow baseball, you’ve probably seen or heard reports of pitchers having Tommy John surgery. Even if you don’t watch Major League Baseball, this surgery has made its way into public consciousness over the past few years as more young players are damaging their throwing elbows and requiring the procedure.
Though many people would recognize the name of the surgery, few know anything more about Tommy John operations. To help you understand the procedure, here are some answers to the most frequently asked questions about Tommy John surgery.
What is Tommy John Surgery?
Tommy John surgery repairs the ulnar collateral ligament (UCL), the ligament that connects the humerus to the ulna. This ligament can tear after repeated overuse, typically from an overhead pitching motion, causing the elbow to be unstable. To repair the elbow, an orthopaedic surgeon will drill holes in the humerus and ulna and weave a new tendon through them to stabilize the joint.
When is Tommy John surgery necessary?
Surgery is not the only way to treat a UCL injury. A doctor might recommend that a patient rest, ice, and stop doing the movement which caused the injury. After both the swelling and pain have decreased, the patient can go through rehab to strengthen the soft tissue around the elbow to re-stabilize it. Although for those who plan to continue the activity that caused the tear, Tommy John surgery is the recommended treatment.
Do only professional baseball players need Tommy John surgery?
Though UCL injuries are predominantly baseball injuries, the majority of all Tommy John patients are younger players. According to the American Journal of Sports Medicine, over half of all Tommy John operations are on children aged 15–19.
Will Tommy John surgery make a player throw harder?
Many players think that they pitch better and faster after Tommy John surgery, but experts do not believe that this has to do with the operation. This procedure simply repairs the main elbow ligament and allows players to return to their normal, healthy condition. It does not help those who have healthy elbows become better baseball players.
Do surgeons always take a replacement tendon from a cadaver?
There are a few options surgeons have when choosing a replacement tendon for the UCL. They might use a donated tendon from a cadaver. More commonly, surgeons will use a tendon taken from somewhere else in the patient’s body. As it is right near the elbow and easy to access, surgeons will usually harvest the palmaris longus tendon from the forearm or they could also elect to take a tendon from the back of the leg.
How long does it take to recover from Tommy John surgery?
As baseball fans know, the recovery time for Tommy John patients is a long one – anywhere from 9 months to a year, on average. However, it can take some players even longer before they return to the pitching mound. It takes the body a long time to become accustomed to the reconstructed elbow, and players need to undergo a lengthy rehabilitation process before they can begin throwing again. If recovery is rushed, patients will likely damage the new UCL and require further surgery.
Elbow and Shoulder Specialists
With the right medical team on your side, a sports injury does not have to be devastating. The sports medicine specialists at Orthodpaedic Associates of St. Augustine can diagnose, treat, and rehabilitate your injury so that you make a complete recovery and get back to your sport. To schedule an appointment please fill out our online form or call 904-825-0540.
SINA KASRAEIAN, MD
Board Certified by the American Board of Orthopaedic Surgery and has extensive training in arthroscopy and sports medicine reconstructive procedures.