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Tommy John Surgery

Ulnar Collateral Ligament (UCL) Tear & Tommy John Surgeon

Are you an athlete who participates in repetitive overhead movements? If so, you are at an elevated risk of tearing the ulnar collateral ligament (UCL). If an elbow UCL tear is too severe for non-operative treatment, a special UCL repair procedure, called Tommy John surgery, is recommended. Elbow UCL tear surgeon, Dr. Nikhil Verma specializes in Tommy John surgery for patients in Chicago who have a torn their UCL. Contact Dr. Verma’s team today!

An Overview on Tommy John Surgery for a UCL Tear

Athletes and other individuals involved in throwing and repetitive overhead movements are at an elevated risk of tearing the ulnar collateral ligament (UCL). The UCL is located on the inside (medial) of the elbow and connects the bone of the forearm (ulna) to the bone of the upper arm (humerus). With enough overuse, this ligament can sustain a stretch so severe that the ligament tears and cannot hold the bones tightly together. If a UCL tear is too severe for non-operative treatment, Dr. Nikhil Verma, elbow surgeon treating patients in the Chicago, Westchester, Oak Brook and Hinsdale, Illinois communities, may recommend Tommy John Surgery, otherwise known as ulnar collateral ligament repair.

The Tommy John Surgery is named after Tommy John, the first professional athlete, a pitcher for the LA Dodgers in the 1970s, to undergo the surgery with a successful outcome. Primarily used for professional baseball players for years, the surgical procedure is now increasingly required among college athletes and younger, active individuals.

Tommy John Surgery is designed to restore medial stability to the elbow, allowing patients to return to daily activities and athletic activities with no elbow pain. The surgical procedure removes the damaged and torn ligaments in the medial area of the elbow and replaces them with tendons from another area in the body, commonly from the patient’s hamstring or forearm..

Dr. Verma may perform an arthroscopy before the ulnar collateral ligament repair in certain patients to evaluate the joint damage and remove any bone spurs or loose bodies. The arthroscopy portion of the procedure may not always be necessary. In all ulnar collateral ligament repair patients, Dr. Verma will perform the surgery through an incision on the inside of the elbow joint. The damaged and torn ligaments are then replaced with a tendon from elsewhere in the body.

Recovery and Rehabilitation after Tommy John Surgery

The majority of patients will be placed in a sling for the first 10 days following ulnar collateral ligament repair. Dr. Verma will prescribe a thorough rehabilitation and physical therapy program that must be followed to strengthen the entire arm area and increase range of motion. Patients can expect a return to normal activities within six months after Tommy John Surgery, but pitching athletes may require more recovery time determined by Dr. Verma and his team.

Ulnar Collateral Ligament (UCL) reconstruction (Tommy John surgery) FAQ

What does it feel like to have a torn UCL?

Symptoms may vary, depending on the severity of a torn UCL but the most common complaint is elbow pain along the inside of the joint with throwing. Some patients experience a sudden “pop” with pain, numbness and swelling in the elbow.

What are the signs you may need Tommy John surgery?

A torn UCL (ulnar collateral ligament) cannot heal on its own and usually requires surgery. Other signs of needing Tommy John surgery include elbow instability, pain, decreased range of motion and weakness.

What is Tommy John Surgery?

Tommy John surgery is named after the U.S. Major League pitcher who tore his UCL (Ulnar Collateral Ligament) which is usually a career-ending injury, and was able to resume pitching after this surgery. The surgery is still called “Tommy John surgery” and is used to repair a torn Ulnar Collateral Ligament (UCL).

How is Tommy John surgery or a UCL reconstruction done?

Tommy John surgery, also called a UCL reconstruction surgery, replaces the original ulnar collateral ligament with a tissue graft. A tendon is taken from the patients own body (autograft) or is donated from a cadaver (Allograft) and secured to the bones of the humerus and ulna with sutures or screws.

What is the recovery time after UCL reconstruction?

Following UCL reconstruction, patients are required to wear a cast for approximately 6 weeks. Moderate exercises can begin after that time and progressive physical therapy will begin.  Most patients can return to their sporting activities in roughly 6 months following surgery. However, return to throwing takes additional rehabilitation and can take 9 months for position players, and 12 months for pitchers.

Can a torn UCL heal itself?

A mild ulnar collateral ligament injury will often heal on its own with conservative treatment. However, a completely torn UCL is unable to heal without surgical intervention.

For more resources on Tommy John Surgery, or ulnar collateral ligament repair, contact the orthopedic office of Dr. Nikhil Verma, elbow surgeon treating the communities of Chicago, Westchester, Oak Brook and Hinsdale, Illinois.

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