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Tommy John Surgery: How Long Does Recovery Take?

Tommy John Surgery: How Long Does Recovery Take?

Tommy John became a household name because of his stellar record as a Major League Baseball pitcher. In 1974 — 11 years after he made it to the major leagues — he ripped the ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) in his elbow while pitching against the Montreal Expos.

That torn UCL should’ve ended John’s career. Instead, the Dodgers’ team doctor — Dr. Frank Jobe — repaired his UCL with a graft. A year later, John was the first pitcher to ever return to the majors after UCL surgery. Jobe’s surgical approach to repairing the UCL was then named after his most famous patient.

If you’ve torn your UCL due to a sports injury or overuse, you can get back to your game, too. David Lintner, MD, specializes in helping athletes and nonathletes regain full function of their elbow with Tommy John surgery

Dr. Lintner is the founder of Houston Methodist Orthopedics & Sports Medicine in Baytown and Houston, Texas. He’s performed more successful Tommy John procedures than any other surgeon in the Houston area.

You may be eager to return to your activities after surgery. However, Tommy John surgery requires recovery and rehabilitation. 

How much and how long depends on the severity of your injury, and the activities you want to pursue again. Below is a guide to help you plan your rehab and recovery.

Immediately post-surgery

Your surgery comprises two parts: In one, Dr. Lintner harvests a ligament graft from your hamstring or another area. He then removes the torn UCL from your elbow, cleans the joint, and attaches the ligament graft with anchors and screws. He may also useArthrex® internal brace and BioECM® amniotic membrane graft for extra security and accelerated healing.

Directly after your surgery, he secures your elbow in a brace, bent at a 60 to 90-degree angle. You immediately begin physical therapy (PT) to strengthen your wrist, fingers, shoulder, and biceps. The PT ensures that your muscles don’t atrophy while immobilized.

Weeks 1-2

After a week or two, you begin to slowly move your elbow. We may switch your brace to a hinged brace so that you can bend and flex your arm during PT, then lock the brace to immobilize your elbow when you’re not exercising and stretching. 

Your PT becomes more intense as you focus on rehabbing your elbow. You might choose to wear a sling to support your arm as it heals.

Months 2-4

One month after your surgery, you should be able to gently straighten your elbow. If you’re a nonathlete, you should regain complete range of motion in your elbow by the end of your second to fourth-month post-surgery.

Months 6-9

If you’re an athlete, your recovery and rehab take longer, particularly if your sport involves throwing. Count on at least six months for your recovery, but be prepared for nine months or possibly longer if you want to return to play at your previous level.

In one study, 100% of seven players who underwent UCL reconstruction were able to return to their game. Six of the players returned to play at the same level that they’d attained before they tore their UCL. One played at a lower level than before surgery. Dr. Lintner’s expertise ensures you get the best results possible from your Tommy John surgery.

If you need Tommy John surgery to repair a torn UCL, call us today. Contact our office nearest you in Houston or Baytown, Texas, to schedule a consultation or book your surgery, so you can take your first steps on the road to your recovery. 

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