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What Is Tommy John Surgery?

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Have you ever heard of Tommy John surgery? If not, don’t worry—you’re not alone. Put simply, Tommy John surgery is a procedure that repairs a torn ligament in the elbow. It’s named after the first person to have the operation done: Major League Baseball pitcher Tom “Tommy” John. Let's take a closer look at this common procedure and how it can help athletes and those with elbow trauma. 

Tommy John Surgery 

Tommy John surgery, also known as ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) reconstruction, is a surgical procedure that can repair damage to the elbow. This ligament is responsible for stabilizing the elbow during throwing motions. In 1974, Dr. Frank Jobe first performed this surgery on Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Tommy John, thus giving the procedure its name. 

UCL injuries often present with pain, elbow looseness or instability, or irritation of the ulnar nerve (funny bone). They’re generally diagnosed via physical exams and CT or MRI scans. Physicians may recommend noninvasive treatments such as ice, rest, physical therapy, and over-the-counter pain medication following UCL injuries. However, they may recommend Tommy John surgery for injuries that don’t respond to these treatments. 

How Does It Work?  

The goal of Tommy John surgery is to replace the damaged UCL with a tendon from another part of the body. This graft usually comes from the patient’s toe, wrist, forearm, or hamstring, or from a donor cadaver. A surgeon threads the tendon through holes drilled in bones in the forearm and upper arm and secured with screws or sutures. 

This new ligament is connected to both the ulna and humerus bones to create a stable connection between them. The purpose of this is to provide stability and prevent further damage to the joint. The entire surgery takes about two hours and typically requires at least six months of rehabilitation before an athlete can return to their sport. 

In addition to surgery, physical therapy plays a key role in long-term recovery. This includes stretching and strengthening exercises that help restore strength and range of motion in the elbow joint. The goal of these exercises is for the patient to regain full use of their arm as quickly as possible following surgery. 

Why Is It Important?  

Before 1974, a torn UCL was considered a career-ending injury for most baseball players. However, Tommy John surgery has been revolutionary for injuries that would otherwise keep athletes out of action. Thanks to this procedure, they can return to competition much sooner than they would have been able to without it, which makes it one of the most valuable advances in sports medicine. 

Who Benefits from Tommy John Surgery?  

Tommy John surgery has revolutionized how elbow injuries are treated. It offers hope for those suffering from chronic pain due to elbow injuries. By replacing damaged ligaments with healthy tissue and completing proper physical therapy regimens afterwards, individuals can experience relief from their symptoms and get back on the field much sooner. 

Anybody who suffers from an injury or tear in their elbow ligaments can benefit from Tommy John surgery. It’s especially common among athletes who take part in sports that involve throwing motions like baseball, softball, tennis, and soccer. Anyone experiencing chronic pain or instability due to an elbow injury may also benefit from this type of surgery. 

Ask Us about Tommy John Surgery 

Whether you’re an athlete or just someone with chronic elbow pain, consider the benefits Tommy John surgery may offer for your overall quality of life. While it also involves extensive rehabilitation, this innovative procedure has revolutionized how we approach elbow injuries surgically. If you’re curious about the risks or benefits of Tommy John surgery, then we hope you’ll reach out and contact us today. We’ll gladly answer your questions and explain the details of this revolutionary procedure.