“What’s Tommy Johns surgery?”—it’s a fair question.

Most people have heard of the procedure, but don’t know what type of injury it treats. Or, where the name comes from. Taking this into account, we’ve created this post. Here’s everything you need to know about Tommy John surgery:

Related Elbow Anatomy

 The elbow is made up of three bones:

  • The humerus
  • The radius
  • The ulna

The three bones are held together by ligaments on the inside and outside of the elbow. When overhead throwing athletes constantly use the elbow, a great deal of stress is placed on the inside (medial) ligaments. The ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) is particularly susceptible to injury.

Illustration 1–Basic elbow anatomy

 

Ulnar Collateral Ligament Injuries

UCL injuries are the result of repetitive overhead throwing motions. The injury can range from an irritated and inflamed ligament to a completely torn one. The former can be treated non-operatively—usually, rest, ice, and anti-inflammatory medicine help patients fully recover. The latter, on the other hand, requires surgical intervention.

Tommy Johns Surgery

The first UCL repair was performed in 1974.  Because the operation was successful, it was named after the Major League Baseball player it was performed on, Tommy John.

During the procedure, the torn UCL is removed and replaced with a ligament graft, which is usually one of the patient’s own tendons. The procedure takes 1-2 hours and patients are allowed to go home the same day as surgery.

Illustration 2– A UCL repair

 

Recovery and Results

Depending on the patient’s response to the new ligament graft and physical therapy, Tommy Johns surgery recovery can take anywhere from 6-8 months. Once patients full heal, they have a stable, strong elbow that can withstand the stress of overhead throwing. Please make note that the injury is not career ending.

Contacting an Orthopedic Specialist

If you’re suffering from elbow pain and instability, you might have a UCL injury that needs to be seen by one of our orthopedic specialists—please give us a call and we’ll get you an appointment ASAP. Regardless of chosen treatment method, you’ll be in great hands and on the road to recovery.


Dr. Charles Ruotolo is a renowned elbow expert and the President of Total Orthopedics and Sports Medicine in Long Island.  He has published several clinical papers on shoulder and elbow injuries in overhand athletes, including Loss of Total Arc of Motion in Collegiate Baseball Players” and “Shoulder Pain and the Overhand Athlete“.  Dr. Ruotolo and the team at Total Orthopedics and Sports Medicine are experts in treating athletes of all levels using a range of options from Physical Therapy to Arthroscopic Surgery.  If you are experiencing shoulder pain, or any muscle or joint injury, contact us today to schedule an appointment in one of our 6 locations in Long Island, Manhattan and the Bronx.