A recent history of Tommy John surgery

A recent history of Tommy John surgery

Luis Severino, Chris Sale, Noah Syndergaard. Three giants in the grove of baseball’s pitching elite, felled by the indiscriminate equalizer that is Tommy John surgery (TJS). It seems like more than ever, the game’s biggest stars are succumbing to this common enemy of pitchers. What is driving this epidemic?

Tommy John surgery, or more scientifically ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) reconstruction surgery, was invented in 1974 by Dodger’s team physician and orthopedic surgeon Frank Jobe. It is named after the first pitcher to receive the treatment, Tommy John. The surgery involves securing the elbow by threading a graft through holes drilled in the ulna and humerus. The graft tissue is commonly harvested from tendons in the non-afflicted arm, the hamstring, or the big toe.

A recent study showed that around 80% of first-time TJS pitchers return to pitch at similar pre-injury levels. However, only around 65% of pitchers who undergo revision surgery (essentially a second TJS) return to the majors, and go on to pitch for fewer seasons on average and with diminished performance relative to controls. Return timetables for TJS rehabilitation range anywhere from 12 to 30 months, depending on factors including nerve damage and surgery complications. Players who successfully return from the surgery go on to play for about four more years on average.

Read more at Pinstripe Alley