What is Tommy John surgery? Tommy John is a surgery that repairs an injured elbow ligament. The surgery is well known for being performed on college and pro athletes, mainly baseball pitchers since it has been named after former MLB pitcher Tommy John. The surgery may also be known as UCL reconstruction. UCL stands for ulnar collateral ligament.
One that is considering having Tommy John surgery would probably want to know how this surgery works. The main concept of the surgery is that a tendon is taken from another part of the patient’s body in order to replace the injured elbow ligament. What part of the body is the tendon taken from? Well, a few different places. The toe, wrist, forearm, foot, hip, knee or hamstring are all the most common. Tunnels are drilled in the ulna or humerus, and the tendon (referred to as a graft) is passed through the tunnels, which is then shaped into a figure eight pattern and the tendon is repaired.
Rehabilitation is one the most important factors of Tommy John surgery. A successful recovery can take up to a year, but many athletes do not return to their previous full strength until up to 2 years after the surgery. This is why physical therapy is one of the most important roles in recovering from this surgery. Your physical therapist and your doctor should be monitoring your recovery and informing you of your progress. During recovery, you will go through a three-step recovery process. For 7-10 days, you will wear a splint on your wrist. You will also being wearing a range-of-motion brace, which will help regain all motion of the elbow joint. As far as exercises go, you will be conducting exercises with your arm, wrist, shoulder and hand in order to regain some strength lost from the surgery.The next phase begins about 6 weeks after surgery, which involves exercises that help strengthen the elbow. However, your physical therapist will be sure not to conduct too many exercises that will put too much stress on the healing elbow.
The final phase involves the patient slowly becoming more active. Your doctor and physical therapist may have you begin to toss a ball 4 or 5 months after the surgery. After 6 months, athletes may begin to use a wind-up motion as a baseball pitcher typically does. A month after that, which is now 7 months post-surgery, a baseball pitcher may return to the mound. It is not usually until after about nine months when a pitcher may start to competitively throw if they have a full range of motion and are pain-free.
After all this rehabilitation, doctor visits and physical therapy, does this surgery actually work? Before this surgery was ever done in 1974, a tear to the UCL was considered a career-ending injury. However, although Tommy John is not fully successful all the time, over 85% of athletes that have had this surgery performed on them have either returned at their previous level of competition, or in some cases, an even better level than they once were.
Tommy John is a surgery that gives athletes another chance at playing the games that they love. An injury that was once so threatening to a career, can now be fixed with surgery and a long, but worthy rehabilitation process. Your doctor and physical therapist are extremely important to you when going through this surgery. It can certainly change your athleticism, career and life for the better and it is well worth having if the opportunity is presented.
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