Tommy John Surgery
Named after Major League Baseball pitcher Tommy John, who was the first to have the surgery in 1974, the procedure is common among throwing athletes or individuals who engage in similar repetitive movements. Tommy John surgery is also called an ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) reconstruction.
The ulnar collateral ligament at the inside of the elbow connects the upper arm bone (humerus) and the larger of the two bones of the forearm (ulna). After repeated strain, the UCL weakens and may tear. When that occurs, you are very likely to hear an audible popping sound, as well as bruising, swelling, and pain at the inner elbow and upper forearm.
Because the ligament is crucial to stabilizing the elbow joint, you may lose elbow function until the UCL tear is treated. The surgery replaces the damaged ligament with a donor tendon, usually from the patient’s own thigh, forearm, or foot.
Treating a Torn UCL
Elbow arthroscopy can be used to repair UCL damage such as smoothing or removing damaged tissue (debridement) at the injury site. This is great news for many patients because this minimally invasive approach can reduce trauma to surrounding healthy tissue, which means a faster recovery and less pain and stiffness.
However, if the ligament has become completely detached from bone, a more traditional, open surgery may be required. Part of the surgery may include debridement as well as surgically transferring the donor tendon to replace the damaged UCL. Surgical sutures or screws are often to hold the tendon in place.
Recovering from Tommy John Surgery
Proper rehabilitation is important to regain full function of your elbow after a UCL reconstruction surgery. Initially, bracing or another immobilizing device will be used to stabilize your arm following the procedure. Physical therapy will need to be performed throughout the recovery process for the best outcome. For example, range-of-motion exercises can ensure gradual improvement in flexibility and function.
Nobody wants surgery. But since 1974, Tommy John surgery has been credited with resuscitating the careers of many injured athletes. If you’ve torn your UCL, make sure you get the orthopedic care that can return you to the sport and activities you enjoy.
Elbow Pain Treatment in St. Louis, Missouri
Do you have elbow pain that may be caused by ligament damage? Find out how the knee, shoulder, and elbow orthopedic specialist Jason Browdy, MD can help you. Call (314) 991-2150 or request an appointment now. We look forward to seeing you at our office in St. Louis, Missouri.