UCL Injury & Tommy John Surgery
In recent years, we have seen a rise in “UCL” (Ulnar Collateral Ligament) injuries, especially among baseball players. Most likely due to the increased number of pitches and the yearly practice of baseball (whereas the sport used to be a strictly Springtime game, ry’s frequency has led to higher demand for “Tommy John” surgery (named for the Major League Baseball pitcher who was among the first to have this procedure done).
The UCL is a ligament, located on the inner side of the elbow. Excessive pain in this area is an obvious symptom of UCL injury, especially during the end of a baseball pitch. You might also feel a “pop” when pain sets in, as well as loss of feeling or tingling in your fingers.
Of course, for pitchers the pain is only the beginning of a larger issue: you can’t pitch as fast or accurately with an injured crucial arm ligament.
UCL injury is treatable both surgically and with noninvasive techniques, depending on the severity. Nonsurgical methods are the first step, including evaluation of the patient’s throwing techniques during physical therapy. The goal is to improve throwing mechanics in order to displace the stress on the injured ligament.
Should the nonsurgical methods fail, Tommy John surgery is an option. This procedure involves taking tissue from an unnecessary tendon in the forearm and using it to reconstruct the UCL. This procedure takes a long time to recover (upwards of a year) so athletes are far better off trying to prevent the injury in the first place.
Therefore, follow the USA Baseball Medical/Safety Advisory Committee’s recommendations for pitch and rest frequency based on your age. Even if, in spite of precautions, athletes feel pain or discomfort in their elbows, coaches should immediately remove them from competition, allowing for optimal rest and recovery.