Tommy John surgery is named for the Major League Baseball (MLB) pitcher who first underwent the corrective procedure to repair his torn ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) in the elbow.
Although Tommy John surgery gets you back in the game, your best bet is to avoid surgical repair altogether. Recovery from Tommy John takes anywhere from 2-4 months for non-athletes and approximately 6-9 months for pros. About 75% of throwing athletes can play their sport professionally again.
David Lintner, MD, a leader in orthopedic sports medicine, team physician for Houston Astros, and founder of the sports medicine fellowship at Houston Methodist Orthopedics & Sports Medicine wants you to prevent a torn UCL. At his Kingwood and Houston, Texas, clinics, he helps you keep your throwing arm strong.
Do you want to minimize your risk of Tommy John surgery? Start these new habits today.
Adopt a pitching-specific protocol
To keep your UCL safe, you need to build strength in your entire body. We recommend the following daily routine for pitchers:
- One HIIT session between pitching outings
- Increase shoulder mobility
- Stabilize shoulders with YTW
- Strengthen rotator cuff with shoulder rotation
You can check out details for the above exercises, including helpful videos, by reading our blog here.
Avoid throwing sidearm
A sidearm pitch increases your risk of a UCL tear. Torque increases significantly (P=.02) for pitchers who throw sidearm when compared with those who use a more common overhand or three-quarters arm angle.
Take a break between pitching sessions
The number of rest days you take between pitching sessions dramatically reduces your risk of Tommy John surgery. Taking only four days of rest is associated with greater risk; even one more day gives you added protection.
Based on these findings, MLB increased the max roster size from 25 to 26 in 2020. That reduces the frequency that each pitcher has to play. If you’re not in the MLB, talk to your coach about taking at least five days’ rest between outings.
Don’t play if your arm’s not ready
Even if you’re psyched to play your next game, if your arm is sore, you need to take a break. Your body sends signals to let you know when something is “off.” If you’re getting the message that your arm isn’t ready to pitch, take heed.
You may be dead-set on not missing that one game for your sore arm. However, you could end up missing the rest of the season due to a torn UCL.
If you’ve torn your UCL, contact our friendly and knowledgeable staff at the nearest office by phone or online form for treatment and rehabilitation, including possible Tommy John surgery.
Special message: Even if you live far from Houston, if you have had an elbow injury caused by throwing and have been diagnosed with a tear in your UCL, consider sending your MRI on a DVD to Dr. Lintner along with a summary of your injury and symptoms for a second opinion. If appropriate, we can schedule a video visit, review your MRI, and discuss whether surgery might be needed. Many of our patients come from far away for their surgery and then rehab closer to home with close follow-up by Dr. Lintner via telemedicine!