Preventing Injuries & Tommy John Surgery in Overhead Athletes

Overhead Athletes, especially baseball, softball, volleyball players, are susceptible to a ligament injury in their throwing arm. The injured ligament is referred to as the Ulnar Collatoral Ligament, or the UCL, and spans from the funny bone to the inner aspect of the forearm. It’s also known in layman’s terms as the Tommy John ligament.

Inner Elbow Pain: Symptoms & Evaluation

Typical symptoms of inner elbow pain in a throwing athlete include pain along the inner elbow or reduced throwing speed. Loss of velocity or throwing speed should prompt early referral to a Sports Medicine physician who is experienced in dealing with an athlete’s elbow.

A thorough history and careful examination, followed by x rays and an MRI are critical in the evaluation of a suspected elbow ligament problem.

Minimize the Risk of UCL (Ulnar Collatoral Ligament) Injuries

The Sports Medicine community is active in finding ways to minimize the risk of UCL injuries, and have come up with evidence-based recommendations:

  • Follow age-specific limits for pitch counts and days of rest
  • Learn good throwing mechanics
  • Build from basic throwing, to fastball pitching, to change-up pitching, before curveball pitching
  • Reserve 2-4 months a year for resting the throwing arm, with no overhead throws
  • Cross-train to build overall athleticism

What is Involved in Tommy John Surgery

The surgery to correct the injured Ulnar Collatoral Ligament (UCL) ligament is known as Tommy John Reconstructive Surgery. It is performed by taking a tendon graft, and recreating or reconstructing a new ligament. This provides the stability to enable the throwing athlete to throw again without pain.

Returning to Play After Tommy John Surgery

Return to play after Tommy John Surgery may be 10 months for a position player and 12 months for a pitcher. There are nonsurgical treatments available, for partial tears, sprains or strains, with a shorter work-up.

This month marks 43 years since Tommy John underwent the first UCL Reconstruction. At EmergeOrtho, fellowship-trained physicians such as Dr. Marshall Kuremsky learned from the experts in this procedure. As Team Physicians for multiple throwing athletes, including the Burlington Royals, Holly Springs Salamanders, Wilson Tobs, and Triple A National Champions the Durham Bulls, EmergeOrtho is dedicated to keeping athletes at their best.