What Every Baseball Player Should Know About Tommy John Surgery

It’s not uncommon for elbows to get sore and achy. Every job will require at least some use of your elbows, and these joints get plenty of use by everyone, every day. Baseball, one of the country’s favorite pastimes, carries a number of risks to the health and safety of your elbow. If you develop pain, numbness, weakness, or instability in your elbow, you may be a candidate for Tommy John Surgery. The procedure, first pioneered in 1973 by Dr. Frank Jobe, repairs your painful elbow and helps you get back in the game. 

There are several things that any baseball player, but particularly pitchers, should know about this procedure. First, it’s important to choose a well-reputed and experienced professional, like Marc Pietropaoli, MD. Dr. Pietropaoli has helped numerous patients get back to their active lifestyles or professional sports, and he can treat the elbow pain that keeps you from making a perfect pitch. Making sure that you know everything that you can about Tommy John surgery is important, and Dr. Pietropaoli will make sure that you and your loved ones are prepared for what’s next. 

Why do I need Tommy John surgery? 

Pitchers work their elbows, shoulders, and wrists to the extreme as part of their jobs or as part of their hobbies. If you love pitching, or it’s central to your career, you’re at increased risk of a torn ulnar collateral ligament (UCL). Your UCL is a thin strap of flexible cells that help keep your elbow stable. Your UCL and your lateral collateral ligament connect the long bone in your upper arm, the humerus, to one of the bones in your forearm. A torn UCL creates an unstable elbow, causes pain, and dramatically reduces the effectiveness of your pitches. 

Experiencing elbow pain, however, isn’t enough to warrant Tommy John surgery. Dr. Pietropaoli works closely with your primary care physician and the rest of your medical team to determine if surgery is right for you. If possible, Dr. Pietropaoli will try conservative methods first, but if surgery is necessary, he will choose a date, and offer you guidance to prepare for your procedure. 

What happens during the procedure?

Tommy John surgery starts with your instructions from Dr. Pietropaoli. Make sure that you have a ride to and from the facility; because you’ll be placed under general anesthesia, you won’t be able to drive yourself home. Dr. Pietropaoli first uses a small drill to get into the nearby bones of your joint. A piece of a tendon, either from your own body or from a donor, is woven through your torn ligament to reconstruct the ligament. The tendon, or graft, is held in place by tiny screws or sutures. The procedure takes 1-2 hours, and Dr. Pietropaoli will send you home with a set of instructions as well as a realistic recovery time.   

What happens after the procedure? 

Recovering from Tommy John Surgery takes time. Generally, recover happens in three stages: 

First two weeks

Starting at the end of the procedure, Dr. Pietropaoli secures your arm in a cast at a 60- or 90-degree angle. You can move your hand and make a fist, which will help with muscle atrophy. You will also be able to move your shoulder, and a physical therapist can help you protect your range of motion and fitness. 

Two-week mark

By this time, you will be able to move your elbow and use it gently. Around this time, you’ll also start range-of-motion physical therapy and will still be in touch with Dr. Pietropaoli. 

End of the month

One month after your procedure, you should have a full range of motion for your elbow, but pitchers will usually need months of additional therapy. Normally, an additional 6-9 months of physical therapy is necessary for pitchers, but for some pitchers, a year of recovery may be necessary. 

I’m ready for my Tommy John surgery

Dr. Pietropaoli has successfully seen many patients through Tommy John surgery over the years. Whether you need the procedure or not, your elbow pain should be addressed as soon as possible. Like many industrial working people, athletes can be vulnerable to repetitive stress injuries and a torn UCL is one of them. Call us for a consultation today at 315-303-8352, or book an appointment with us online. 

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