If you follow sports, baseball in particular, you may have heard of a star player being out for Tommy John surgery. No, there isn’t a part of the elbow named “Tommy John” – the surgery is a reconstruction of the ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) and a baseball player named Tommy John was the first to undergo the procedure successfully, thus the common name. So what causes the injury that necessitates this type of operation? To answer, it’s important to understand the anatomy of the elbow and the function of the UCL.
As shown in the diagram, the ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) attaches the upper arm (humerus) to the forearm (ulna). The UCL stabilizes movement of the elbow when throwing, but the more stress it endures through repetitive motion or force, the greater the risk of the ligament deteriorating. That is why UCL tears are particularly common in baseball pitchers, who contort their elbows in a series of different angles during a single hard throw, then repeat these motions over and over.
There are different signs that you may have an injury of the UCL. These include:
- A sudden ‘pop’ sensation in your elbow
- Pain when in a throwing motion
- Limited ability to throw
- Tingling in the hand or fingers
- Weakened grip strength
Once non-surgical options have been exhausted, like physical therapy, rest or medication, your orthopedic may recommend surgery. Thankfully, since Tommy John first had his surgery, countless athletes have benefited from UCL repair or reconstruction surgery to get them back on the mound. During the operation, an orthopedic surgeon will either repair the tear in the ligament or reconstruct using a donor tendon from elsewhere in the body to graft a new ligament. Rates of return to sports 9 months after surgery are high for this type of treatment – 85%-95% of throwing athletes returning.
If you are experiencing any of the symptoms outlined above, remember, ignoring the issue can lead to further complications. The team of specialists at NEOSM are here to help you overcome your injuries and make the most out of life. Reach out to us anytime for a consultation.