Why the Rise in Tommy John Surgeries?

Brandon J. Erickson, MD April 26th, 2019

Learn About the Game-Changing Statistic on Baseball Pitcher Injuries

Baseball season is upon us, which means it’s time to strengthen your throwing arm and get back into shape. But before returning to your pitching routine, consider the following statistic: young male teens between the ages of 15 and 19 account for almost 57% of Tommy John surgery cases. What does this mean? Why such a high percentage in such young baseball players?

Our Sports Medicine specialists at Rothman Orthopaedic Institute have also noticed the rise in Tommy John surgery in NYC. Below, you’ll learn about a significant Tommy John surgery study, the appeal of ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) surgery, and—most importantly—how you can prevent ever needing surgery for a throwing injury in the first place.

What Is Tommy John Surgery?

The study previously mentioned was conducted by Rothman Orthopaedics Sports Medicine surgeon Dr. Brandon J. Erickson and other researchers at the Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, Illinois. They analyzed patients that billed for the specific code for ulnar collateral ligament reconstruction (UCLR) between the years 2007 and 2011. Out of 790 total patients, over half were teenagers between 15 and 19 years old. Dr. Erickson commented on this rising percentage, noting that more young athletes believe the procedure could help them achieve a college scholarship or even get them to the major leagues.

These beliefs stem from previous success stories associated with this surgery, such as those regarding Tommy John himself. The hope with this surgery is that the player can return to the same skill level he was at previously—if not an even higher skill level, now that he has potentially more arm strength. This is not the case, so the surgery should not be performed unless an athlete has an ulnar collateral ligament tear.

The ulnar collateral ligament, the object of this procedure, stabilizes the inner area of the elbow joint, which allows a person to execute a throwing motion. Repetitive, overhead throwing can cause a tear or injury to this ligament, which necessitates surgery if the patient intends on returning to his or her sport.

Although this surgery is highly effective and may help patients’ pitching arm to feel good as new, there are obvious associated risks. Dr. Erickson pointed out that UCLR is performed close to the ulnar nerve in the elbow. If this nerve becomes injured, a patient can experience significant hand dysfunction.

Dr. Erickson believes, and many orthopaedic experts agree, that there are much better ways to keep baseball players’ arms healthy on the field. The best method? Training smarter and preventing injuries before they develop.

How to Prevent an Overuse Throwing Injury

There are multiple prevention techniques you can implement to protect your throwing arm. One unique tip is to be aware of the weather in your region. According to Dr. Erickson’s study, more than 56% of the pitchers surveyed who had Tommy John surgery grew up in warm weather climates. Many of them played year-round as a result of the climate instead of only playing seven or eight months a year. Without taking time off to rest each year, players increase their chance of getting injured.

Below are more injury prevention tips that our Sports Medicine specialists recommend to pitchers.

  • Strength Training: Keep your elbow and shoulder joints strong by strength training in the gym. Ask a coach or physical therapist to help you with proper technique. Focus on your scapular muscles. Band work is crucial to overhead athletes, especially baseball players.

  • Cross Training: Many overuse injuries occur because athletes never mix up their workouts. When you aren’t on the baseball field, try another type of exercise like jogging or swimming. This can also give your pitching arm a break while helping you stay fit.

  • Stretching: Another reason baseball players often injure their throwing arm is because they forget to warm up or cool down. Take the time to stretch your arms, shoulders, hips, and back to loosen your muscles and prepare your body for practice or a game.

  • Nutritional Eating: Food is fuel, especially when you’re an athlete. Make sure when you’re training that you consume enough nutrition-dense foods. Also, drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration.

Choose Rothman Orthopaedic Institute for Tommy John Surgery in NYC

Our orthopaedic specialists aim to treat patients conservatively before suggesting surgery. However, depending on the severity of the injury, a specific procedure may be the best option for the patient. For more information about Tommy John surgery in NYC, or to schedule an appointment with a Sports Medicine doctor, please visit us here or contact us at 1-800-321-9999.

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