Tommy John surgery is the reconstruction of the ulnar collateral ligament of the elbow. This type of surgery is usually done for those who have problems with throwing. Baseball pitchers usually have injury to the elbow and require the surgery.
With this procedure, the elbow is unstable and requires extensive surgical repair to fix the problem. After the surgery, it is necessary to have physical therapy, and pain medication will be needed for a while.
Tommy John was a professional pitcher for the LA Dodgers who damaged his ulnar collateral ligament. He needed surgery so he would not have to end his pitching career. He was one of the first to receive the surgery, and that is why it was named after him. Prior to him, there really was not a way to reconstruct the ligament and then have the athlete compete at a high level again as a pitcher.
In order to perform Tommy John surgery, a general anesthesia is given to the patient. The orthopedic surgeon in Phoenix often finds it necessary to use the tendon from the opposite arm in order to make the repair. With UCL reconstruction, the surgeon may use an allograft or autograft to reconstruct the damaged area. A series of suture anchors or screws are used to secure the graft in place, making the joint more stable and reducing pain.
During surgery, a small incision on the inside surface of the elbow is made so that the damaged ligament can be removed. The incision is very small because an arthroscopic procedure may be used to perform the procedure. To complete the reconstruction, the Phoenix orthopedic doctor may take a section of a tendon from the forearm of the uninjured arm in order to repair the damaged arm. After the surgeon obtains the graft of the tendon, then he will sew it into the elbow in order to fix the damaged area and create the new ligament.
Results of the Surgery
Tommy John turns a tendon into a new ligament with drill holes placed into the humerus and radius bones. The tendon is placed through these holes in a figure of eight fashion and heals very strongly. Over 80% of the time, the outcome is tremendous and athletes are able to return to high level throwing.
Risks of Tommy John Surgery
Just like all surgeries, there are risks involved with the Tommy John surgery and the anesthesia associated with this procedure. Additionally, there is the risk of neuropathy, which is a lack of nerve impulses. When this happens, it can leave the hand numb with a tingling sensation. Usually, the feeling will go away, but in some cases, it remains permanently. The patient may lose some of the range of motion of the elbow. However, in most cases, recovery is very good, and most patients regain full use of the arm and elbow.