What is Tommy John Surgery: How to Know if You Need It


The name, Tommy John surgery, isn’t exactly a dead-giveaway for what this procedure entails – unless you know who Tommy John is. Tommy John was a pitcher, who was the first person to have this type of surgery back in 1974.

After his baseball elbow surgery, Tommy won 146 more games in his baseball career, which he retired from in 1989.

But wait: what is Tommy John surgery?

Tommy John surgery is a procedure performed to repair the ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) in the elbow. This ligament may become torn from excessive throwing movements and therefore is a common baseball injury.

Usually, the UCL helps to secure and support the elbow joint by attaching the ulnar and humerus bones on the inside of the elbow.

Reconstruction surgery of the UCL involves the use of another tendon from elsewhere in your body or from a donor. This tendon is then attached to repair the torn UCL. In most cases, it takes about a year to make a full recovery after a Tommy John surgery procedure.


How Do You Know if You Need Tommy John Surgery?

Contrary to popular belief, Tommy John surgery doesn’t necessarily make you a better pitcher. But more and more MLB players are getting the UCL surgery.

Why is this happening? When you pitch a ball in baseball, you are essentially pushing the limits on the maximum movement range and force of these ligaments and tendons. At a certain point, the ligaments or tendons may not be able to take it. Thus, they end up tearing. Many pitchers have gone on to have incredible baseball careers post-UCL surgery.

Most individuals who undergo Tommy John surgery do so from overuse injuries causing the UCL to tear. As previously mentioned, this is common in athletes who frequently bend their elbow – like pitchers.

Usually, baseball elbow surgery is considered a last resort. A Tommy John ligament surgery is recommended only if other conservative treatment options have failed or if the injury is severe enough that it is determined that it won’t heal properly on its own.

What are the Symptoms and Rehabilitation Procedures After Tommy John Surgery?

Typically, recovery after a Tommy John surgery procedure follows three phases. Immediately post-surgery, the elbow is placed in a brace securing it in a 60 or 90 degree angle. Physical therapy exercises may start right away, but often focus on increasing strength in the hands, wrist, fingers, shoulder, and biceps.


A couple of weeks following UCL surgery, the elbow is able to be moved. You may switch to wearing a hinge brace or keeping it in a sling when not performing your exercises. Your physical therapist will begin to prescribe various range of motion exercises to work on getting elbow function back.

After the first month or so, your elbow should be able to fully extend. Around this time, it is recommended to take off any braces or slings. Many patients regain a normal range of motion and have very few residual Tommy John surgery symptoms within a few months. However, it may vary case-to-case. Strength may take more time to regain, with many athletes returning to fully normal functioning within a year.

Tommy John Ligament Surgery Has Become a Staple in UCL Tears

If you’ve experienced a recent UCL tear, Tommy John surgery may be recommended to you in order to gain proper healing and make a full recovery.

And if you’ve recently had a Tommy John surgery procedure or have one scheduled, use the BetterPT website or mobile app. We can help find and schedule an appointment with a physical therapist who specializes in treating Tommy John surgery symptoms and rehabilitation protocols near you. Find the help you need faster than ever before, and start your road toward recovery today.

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