Tommy John Surgery – Get Back to Throwing

Ulnar Col­lat­er­al Lig­a­ment Recon­struc­tion Surgery

Whether 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.