Understanding Tommy John Surgery

Posted by Signature Medical Group on Thursday, February 16, 2017 in Orthopedics

If you're a St. Louis Cardinals fan, the three most dreaded words — other than World Champion Cubs — are Tommy John surgery.

When prize rookie pitcher Alex Reyes became the latest victim recently, Cardinals fans could only shudder, thinking about Lance Lynn (2015), Adam Wainwright (2011) and Chris Carpenter (2007), among others, to suffer a similar fate.

What is Tommy John surgery? It is named for the then-Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher who had the first such surgery in 1974 by famed orthopedic surgeon Dr. Frank Jobe.

The surgery is more properly known as ulnar collateral ligament reconstruction (or UCL), in which a ligament in the elbow is replaced with a tendon from elsewhere in the body (often from the forearm, hamstring, or foot of the patient).

At Signature Medical Group, you don't have to be a star athlete to get star medical treatment. Our team of orthopedic surgeons and sports medicine experts offers comprehensive care for bones, joints, muscles, tendons, ligaments and nerves.

You can trust us with your kids, too. Broken arms, sprained ankles, twisted knees. We have extensive training in treating children's orthopedic injuries.

We also offer convenient hours and many times you get see a doctor the same day you make an appointment.

Tommy John surgery is revolutionary in many respects. Before his surgery, John won 124 games. He won 164 games after surgery, retiring in 1989 at age 46.

Full rehabilitation after Tommy John surgery takes about one year for pitchers and about six months for position players. Players typically begin throwing about 16 weeks after surgery.

Reyes, 22, will miss all of the 2017 season but is expected to return next season.

Some pitchers believe they can throw harder after Tommy John surgery than they did beforehand. As a result, orthopedic surgeons have reported that parents of young pitchers have come to them and asked them to perform the procedure on their un-injured sons in the hope that this will increase their sons’ performance. However, many doctors - including Jobe - believe any post-surgical increases in performance are most likely due to the increased stability of the elbow joint and pitchers’ increased attention to their fitness and conditioning.

At Signature, we'll guide you and your young athlete to the right course of treatment. Our orthopedic surgeons and sports medicine experts help our patients get the most out of their athletic endeavors. Make an appointment today to see us.