When you have elbow pain, it might be a sign that one of the ligaments in your elbow is injured. At the USC Epstein Family Center for Sports Medicine, Los Angeles, California, Frank Petrigliano, MD determines the cause of your pain and treats you accordingly. He’s an expert at performing Tommy John Surgery, which repairs a damaged ligament in your elbow. Tommy John Surgery is most common among baseball pitchers, and Dr. Petrigliano is able to get your elbow back to top form so your injury won’t impact your throw for long.
Your ulnar collateral ligament, or UCL, is one of the two primary ligaments in your elbow. When it tears or is injured, you need to have the ligament reconstructed, since it can’t be sewn back together. During surgery, Dr. Petrigliano removes tendon from your forearm, foot, hamstring, or knee, and uses it as a graft in your damaged UCL.
Tommy John surgery is usually performed on professional and college athletes, particularly baseball and softball pitchers. While the surgery is technically a UCL reconstruction, most people know it as “Tommy John” surgery.
It was named after the former Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher who was the first person to have the surgery back in 1974. With advancements in medicine since then, the modern Tommy John surgery is minimally invasive.
Most men and women experience pain with a UCL injury. Usually the pain is located primarily on the inside of your elbow, and this pain is worse when attempting to throw. Many athletes also complain of a loss of speed or accuracy with their throws.
One of the unique symptoms of having a UCL injury is that you may have a constant tingling or numbness in your funny bone, due to damage of your ulnar nerve. Pain will radiate as far down as your small and ring fingers. This sensation can further decrease your ability to hold and throw a ball.
Full recovery can last for several months. For the first 7-10 days, you probably will be in a brace to minimize elbow movement. But once cleared you can start working with it. You can start by doing range of motion exercises on a daily basis.
By the 6-8 week mark, you should have your full range of motion back. If you’re a pitcher, you’ll likely continue doing physical therapy that includes building up strength, for the next four months or so. Complete recovery to restore function as it was prior to injury takes about a year.
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