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Tommy John Surgery

Tommy John Surgery for a UCL Tear Overview

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,

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. Waterman 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. Waterman 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. Waterman 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. Waterman and his team.

At a Glance

Dr. Brian Waterman, MD

  • Chief & Fellowship Director, Sports Medicine, Wake Forest
  • Team Physician, Wake Forest University, Chicago White Sox
  • Military affiliation/Decorated military officer and surgeon
  • Learn more

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