An Ulnar Collateral Ligament Repair, commonly known as Tommy John surgery, is designed for patients who have suffered severe ulnar collateral ligament injuries and require that functionality for ongoing athletics, typically for overhead or throwing athletes. It is not always a required procedure, and for some patients alternatives may be available, including rest, bracing, and physical therapy.
Ultimately, a specialist doctor will be able to identify the proper treatment plan for individual cases and craft a customized solution. In general, the most severe cases affecting the ulnar collateral ligament will require surgical intervention, especially if the ligament has suffered a partial or complete tear. A full examination will uncover the extent of the damage and provide a solid foundation for determining the proper treatment plan. In the past, Tommy John surgery was only required for professional athletes whose elbows have been overworked. However, an alarming and increasing number of young athletes have had to undergo this surgery.
Tommy John surgery takes its name from the major league pitcher, Tommy John. It’s a surgical graft procedure designed to repair the ulnar collateral ligament by replacing it with a tendon taken from another location. The frequency of ulnar collateral ligament injuries has increased steadily over time as a result of over-practice by young athletes, and often not from a single event or injury.
For this procedure, the arm is opened around the elbow area, and holes are drilled in the ulna and humerus bones. A tendon is taken from another location and is used as a graft, it is then woven through the holes and anchored in place. The ulnar nerve must be relocated to prevent pain from scar tissue. Post-surgery, a rehabilitation period is required to allow the body to adapt to the presence of the tendon and to prevent further injury.
Nine in ten patients typically make a full recovery and are able to return to sports after a waiting period during which they rest and recover or undergo some form of physical therapy. The total time for full rehabilitation depends on the position the athlete plays. For some athletes, it may take up to a year, while others may return to sports at around 6 months. The actual rehabilitation period will be determined on a case by case basis in order to protect the tendon after the procedure.