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What is a Tommy John Surgery

What is a Tommy John Surgery?


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If you are a baseball fan, you have probably heard of the baseball pitcher Tommy John. His name is now used to describe a surgical procedure that helps treat individuals with severe elbow and shoulder pain in Calgary. Tommy John surgery, also referred to as UCL reconstruction, is commonly used on athletes, but can also be used on individuals suffering from overuse injuries to the UCL.

The Cause of UCL Injuries

Your UCL is located on the inside of your elbow. It is what connects your upper arm bone to the ulna. Even non-athletes can injure their UCL due to repetitive stress or trauma, but baseball pitchers often have the highest risk due to the throwing motion that twists, bends and stresses the ligaments in the arm.

Over time, the UCL can develop tears and eventually those tears reach a point where they can no longer hold the bones together tightly. Some sports that increase the risk for a UCL injury include:

  • Tennis
  • Baseball
  • Gymnastics
  • Softball
  • Football
  • Wrestling
  • Cheerleading
  • Soccer

Identifying a UCL injury is rather straightforward and the symptoms include:

  • Pain on the inside of the elbow
  • Tingling or numbness in the small finger or ring finger
  • Sense of looseness in the elbow
  • A decreased ability to throw an object

How the MLB Pitcher Surgery Works
This surgery requires taking a piece of tendon from somewhere else within your body, which can include:

  • Wrist
  • Forearm
  • Toe
  • Hip
  • Knee
  • Achilles tendon
  • Thigh

If a tendon cannot be removed from your body, surgeons can use one that is donated or extract a cadaver tendon. Then, tunnels are drilled into the ulna and humerus and the tendon is grafted into the tunnels. It is woven into a figure-eight to reconstruct your ligament.

How Is There an Alternative to Tommy John Surgery?

Tommy John surgery is generally only reserved for professional athletes. Recovering from this surgery can take up to two years to return to your previous level of abilities. For the first four months, you may need to avoid any activities that can overstress the grafted tendon. Athletes are often able to start throwing balls lightly by four to five months post-surgery and by nine months they can throw in competition as long as they are pain-free and have regained their strength as well as their range-of-motion.

Injuries to the shoulder or chronic elbow pain that involve the UCL are first treated using non-invasive, conservative procedures. This can include rest, ice and anti-inflammatory drugs. Often you will go through physical therapy to help strengthen the muscles surrounding your UCL as well. Often, with proper treatment by a reputable pain clinic, elbow and shoulder pain can be dramatically reduced.

Alberta Back and Neck Rehab & Sports Injuries Clinic offers innovative treatments for shoulder and elbow pain in Calgary including shockwave therapy. If you think you have a UCL injury, come in for a no obligation consultation. Call us at 403-234-0040 or contact us online to schedule your appointment.

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