Tommy John Surgery
Tommy John Surgery, also know as elbow ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) reconstruction, was invented in 1974 by Dr. Frank Jobe. Prior to the invention of the surgery, pitchers were often left with no options when they tore their UCL. The main function of the native UCL is to resist valgus forces (forearm moving away from the body relative to the arm). In pitchers, it is under the most stress when the pitcher cocks back his arm to throw and begins accelerating into the throw.
In 1974, Tommy John began having medial elbow pain and an inability to pitch. He asked Dr. Jobe to brainstorm a way to try and reconstruct his ulnar collateral ligament. Dr. Jobe channeled his experience with tendon transfers in polio patients to develop an approach to reconstruction. Tommy John played for 13 additional years after his return in 1976.
UCL reconstruction is highly effective in elite baseball players at returning them to baseball. All athletes who undergo surgery understand that the recovery and rehab is long and arduous. Almost 25% of major league baseball pitchers have had the surgery.
The reconstruction consists of taking a graft (usually a tendon from the leg or forearm) and anchoring it into the arm (humerus) and forearm (ulna). If the athletes is having symptoms of ulnar nerve irritation, then often the nerve is moved during the same operation.
If you are a baseball player with elbow pain, call Dr. Gibbs for an appointment to discuss treatment options to get you back on the field.