Tommy John surgery is avoidable
As midseason approaches for major league baseball, Chicago White Sox pitcher Nate Jones is trying to get back into the rotation. Jones had Ulnar Collateral Ligament (UCL) elbow reconstruction or “Tommy John surgery” in July of 2014 and is rehabilitating his throwing arm. He recently threw a simulated game, and the Sox are hoping he will return to the mound by midseason. Currently, there are 31 other major league pitchers recovering from Tommy John surgery.
Tommy John surgery reconstructs or replaces the UCL. The UCL is critical for elbow stability during throwing, and injury to the UCL usually occurs from overuse. “UCL injuries affect far too many baseball players, and pitchers of all levels need proper rest, recovery time between outings, and hard limits to the amount they throw,” said Dr. Steven Chudik, orthopaedic surgeon and sports medicine physician with the Steven Chudik Shoulder and Knee Injury Clinic, and founder of the Orthopaedic Surgery and Sports Medicine Teaching and Research Foundation (OTRF). “The best way to prevent injury to the UCL is to adhere to strict pitch counts, use proper throwing mechanics, and never throw through pain. Players, parents, and coaches must be educated about the importance of pitch counts, proper mechanics, and sufficient rest. Although Tommy John surgery may be able to return pitchers to the mound, surgery still has limitations, and permanence,” he added. Tommy John surgery takes 9-12 months to recover and not all players return to their prior level of performance.
To help, Dr. Chudik has a set of throwing guidelines. He also developed a performance and injury prevention in season conditioning program and a throwing recovery program for throwers of all ages. These publications can be obtained by emailing Dr. Chudik at firstname.lastname@example.org/.
Even though Tommy John surgery can sometimes save careers, it is much better to prevent UCL injury and avoid surgery.