What Is Tommy John Surgery?

When the ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) inside the elbow is completely distorted, a Tommy John surgery is performed. In this procedure, the ligament is replaced with a tendon from another part of the body or a donor tendon. The operation will ensure the stability of the elbow, pain reduction, and restoration of range of movement. Tommy John surgery is usually performed on injured athletes who play sports which involve a lot of throwing.

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What are the manifestations and how is it diagnosed?

One will feel pain inside the elbow and the elbow will feel loose. The patient typically feels numbness and tingling sensations in the ring and pinky finger. There will be a reduced range of motion as well. The diagnosis is made by taking a history and undergoing a physical examination and radiological tests.

A brief on the surgical procedure

The first step is to determine the graft which is taken from another area of the body or a donor. The second step involves making an incision and cleaning out the elbow joint. The last step is drilling holes and attaching the graft inside the elbow.

Who is a candidate and what are the associated complications?

Tommy John surgery is considered if conservative treatments do not work to heal the UCL. The surgery is also considered if one needs to resume strenuous activities that require excessive use of the elbow. The common surgical risks include infection, injury to the nerve or blood vessel, and anesthesia complications. Other risks include numbness, weakness, and graft rupture.

The rehabilitation and amount of recovery time

Every individual’s recuperation time is different. The rehabilitation period is classified into 3 stages and recovery can take 1-2 years. The first stage involves wearing a splint and doing gentle exercises on the wrist, hand, and shoulder. The second phase occurs after a few weeks of surgery and involves doing strengthening exercises for the elbow. The last stage allows extending the elbow and, in most cases, range of motion is regained.

When to consult a doctor and what is the success rate?

Getting a healthcare professional’s opinion is important as soon as the injury is felt. If a popping sensation is felt while using the elbow, seek immediate medical attention. If the pain does not subside after a few days, then contact the healthcare provider. The good side of the surgery is that the success rate is very high. Athletes who are throwers have a success rate of 85-95% while non-throwers have a success rate of 95-100%.

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