An ulnar collateral ligament injury (UCL) can leave you with a lot of discomfort and pain. This injury occurs in the elbow and can happen after throwing too hard or moving your arm at a weird angle.
This injury is common with athletes and people who like manual hobbies like gardening. Luckily, there ways to correct this tear so you can continue with your life.
Tommy John surgery is the best corrective approach for healing a UCL tear. Keep reading to learn more about how this surgery can help you!
What Is Tommy John Surgery?
Tommy John surgery was named after a famous Major League Baseball pitcher. After his UCL tear, he was unable to pitch at the same rate, but once he had his UCL repaired, he was able to play again!
You’re probably still wondering what is Tommy John surgery. This procedure treats a UCL tear by reconstructing the UCL with a tendon graft.
A tendon graft comes from another part of your body. In this case, the surgeon will retrieve the graft from the hamstring because it’s similar to the UCL tissue.
The surgeon will then remove the damaged tissue and replace it with the tendon graft. Once the graft is placed correctly, the surgeon will secure it with screws, anchors, and sutures.
Who Can Perform Tommy John Surgery?
Tommy John surgery is a very specific kind of surgery. Typically, an orthopedic surgeon who specializes in elbows can perform this surgery. When choosing the right surgeon, ensure that they have experience with UCL tears and other sports injuries.
Doing thorough research will increase your chances of choosing a reputable surgeon. Ultimately, choosing the best surgeon will improve your outcome.
Why Was Tommy John Surgery Invented?
As stated previously, a UCL tear can cause pain and discomfort. The main reason why Tommy John surgery was invented was to relieve pain and restore range of motion in the elbow.
This surgery has a high success rate among athletes who want to continue playing their sport. However, anyone can have a UCL tear and can benefit from this surgery.
Are UCL Tears Common?
The UCL is a triangular-shaped tissue that sits inside the elbow and supports the joint. The reason why UCL tears happen is because of overuse.
Athletes are more susceptible to this type of sports injury, which can lead to a destabilized elbow. If not treated immediately, this injury can weaken the muscles in your arm and lead to lifelong complications.
That’s why it’s important to treat athlete injuries as fast as possible. However, surgery may not be the first option.
Typically, a doctor will recommend physical therapy along with rest. However, if this proves to be unhelpful, the next step is Tommy John surgery.
Signs of a UCL Tear
Knowing the warning signs of a UCL tear is essential. Usually, a UCL tear will present itself with these signs:
- Bruising around the elbow area
- Reduced or no mobility in the arm
- Trouble throwing
- Pain around the elbow and arm area
- Mild to severe swelling
- Loss of hand grip
- Tingling in the hand
- Numbness around the injured area
If you’re having four or more of these symptoms, odds are you have a UCL injury. Always check with a medical professional to confirm your injury.
Levels of UCL Tears
There are different levels of UCL tears, which can pose a severe threat to your mobility. With a first-degree injury, the ligament is still intact but creates a lot of pain.
A second-degree injury will also cause a huge deal of pain because of how badly the ligament becomes stretched. A third-degree injury is the most serious and will most likely need corrective surgery. In a third-degree injury, the ligament is completely torn and cannot function.
The first two UCL injuries might be fixed without surgery. However, you should discuss your options with an orthopedic surgeon.
Tommy John Surgery Cost
The costs for any reconstructive surgery depend on the severity of your injury, the surgeon, and your insurance plan. However, there are rough estimates of the cost of Tommy John surgery.
For starters, non-surgical treatments can range from $500 to $5,000 with health insurance. Unfortunately, the cost of non-surgical treatments goes up without insurance. On average, these treatments can range from $10,000 to $26,000 or more.
The cost of Tommy John surgery usually ranges between $15,000 to $50,000. However, an exact number cannot be given without talking to your health insurance provider. The overall price may be significantly lower, but it all depends on your health coverage.
Preparing for Tommy John Surgery
With most surgeries, there are steps you need to take beforehand. During your consultation, your doctor will give you instructions to follow before going under.
Blood clots can occur after surgery, and taking other medications can increase this risk. It’s recommended that you stop taking any medications 24 hours before surgery.
You should also have a recovery plan and someone to help you with your day-to-day life. Cooking, driving, and cleaning are not recommended after surgery, so having someone to help you can relieve a lot of stress.
Lastly, you should take at least three weeks off from work or your practice schedule!
What to Expect on Your Surgery Day
On the day of your surgery, there are many precautions and steps that need to be done before the surgery. Sometimes patients can get nervous before a surgical procedure, so knowing what to look out for might help.
Here are the typical steps that nurses and doctors take before your procedure:
- Once you arrive at the medical building, you will be placed in the intake room.
- The surgeon will review the procedure in detail and give you post-op instructions.
- A nurse will have you sign consent forms.
- The staff will prepare you for surgery by taking your vitals and possibly a urine sample.
- A nurse will start an IV line to prepare for anesthesia.
- Afterward, you’ll be transported into the operating room and put under anesthesia to begin surgery.
After surgery, you will be groggy because of the anesthesia. However, if the surgery is successfully completed, you can leave the same day!
Tommy John Surgery Recovery
Tommy John surgery recovery can be a long process. However, with the right aftercare treatment, you can have some motions in two or five months and a full recovery in about six to nine months.
Your surgeon will provide clear instructions for your recovery, and you must follow them closely! For starters, it’s recommended that you wear an elbow brace for at least one month.
Physical therapy is also recommended for your recovery process and overall results. Lastly, your surgeon will also advise you not to perform any physical activities outside of your physical therapy!
Pain Management After Surgery
After your surgery, you will have some pain. However, you can take over-the-counter pain and anti-inflammatory medications, to keep the swelling down.
You should also have your elbow in an elevated position. During your physical therapy is when you’ll experience the most pain. However, your therapist will work with you to optimize mobility while still keeping you comfortable.
If you feel a significant level of pain at any point during your therapy, immediately alert your physical therapist. This could be a sign of inflammation and needs to be treated carefully to reduce further damage.
Risks Involved in Tommy John Surgery
Like any other surgery, Tommy John surgery also has some risk factors and complications involved. For instance, bleeding and blood clots can occur.
An infection could also occur after surgery that could lead to severe complications. It’s important to note that these complications are present in all surgeries.
However, by choosing the right surgeon and closely following your post-op instructions, these can be minimized. More specifically, the complications directly associated with Tommy John surgery are:
- Temporary weakness and numb feeling
- Re-injury that will require another surgery
- Pain and discomfort when throwing
- Lower mobility that prevents you from fully extending the elbow
As stated previously, these complications can be avoided by following your surgeon’s instructions and doing physical therapy. If you have a history of blood clots, tell your surgeon so they can administer the proper medications.
How to Prevent UCL Injuries
There are ways of preventing UCL injuries and strengthen the muscle all around. The best way to start is by core strengthening and improving your range of motion in the shoulder.
You should have a daily routine that consists of stretching and strengthening the muscle. Keep reading to learn more.
The first exercise for stretching your UCL is by bending your wrist forward then backward. This may induce some pain, but try your hardest to stretch your arm as far as possible.
This exercise can be done in two sets of 15. The next exercise starts by bending your injured elbow 90 degrees while keeping your elbow at your side.
Slowly turn the palm upward and hold for six seconds. Do this exercise 20 times in sets of two.
Strengthening is also an essential part of preventing injuries. The first exercise that you can do to strengthen the area is wrist flexion. Start by holding about 2 to 5 pounds of weight.
With your palms facing up, begin bending your wrist in an upward position. Move the weight back to the original position. Repeat these steps in sets of 2 for 15 times.
The second exercise is a mid-trap. Begin by lying on your stomach and placing a pillow underneath the chest area. Have your arms straight out by your side and straight elbows.
Start raising your arms towards the ceiling. While raising your arms, squeeze your shoulder blades together. Do this exercise slowly and stop if there is too much discomfort.
This exercise can be done in three sets of 15. The last exercise is called flexion and extension. Start by holding 2 to 5 pounds of weight and bend your elbow until your hand reaches your shoulder.
Slowly come back to the original position until your arm is straight. This exercise should be done in 2 sets of 15.
Different Athlete Injuries
Unfortunately, there are a lot of athlete injuries that can occur on and off the field. ACL tears are common among sports injuries; this type of injury tears the anterior cruciate ligament.
This ligament connects your femur to your tibia. This injury is common in soccer, football, and skiing. A UCL and ACL tear can have similar symptoms, causes, and treatments.
However, ACL tears can be more dangerous than UCL tears. Another severe injury is a fractured vertebra. This kind of injury can cause severe harm to an athlete.
In fact, this injury can lead to temporary or permanent paralysis. It is common in football and other aggressive sports.
Tommy John Surgery Success Rate
The success rate for baseball players is significantly high when Tommy John surgery is performed. In fact, after Tommy John surgery, about 83% of players are able to return to Major League Baseball.
It’s important to mention that a full recovery can still affect your pitching performance. There is also a possibility for re-injury, which can lead to other surgeries. Nevertheless, the advances of this surgery are continuing every year.
Hope Is Waiting for You
After a successful Tommy John surgery, you can look forward to having full mobility and no discomfort. So if you suspect you might have a UCL tear, speak to a professional immediately.
The faster you receive treatment, the better the outcome will be. Don’t forget to contact us and schedule a consultation today!