'Tommy John' Surgery in Young Patients Cause for Concern

Photo: Baseball players

Over 90 percent of the patients who
undergo "Tommy John" surgery are
baseball players; © SXC

"The reality is that this surgery is successful and that's good. But a disturbing trend of younger kids needing the surgery is troubling”, said co-author E. Lyle Cain, MD, fellowship director for the American Sports Medicine Institute, Andrews Sports Medicine and Orthopaedic Center in Birmingham, Alabama. "Tommy John" surgery is a procedure where a damaged elbow ligament (Ulnar Collateral Ligament or UCL) is replaced with a tendon from elsewhere in the body.

In the study, 743 patients who had the Tommy John surgery were contacted for follow-up evaluations and completed a questionnaire about their recovery. The majority of the patients were baseball players (94.5 percent), the remaining 5.5 percent were involved in track, football or other sports.

The study found that 622 patients (83 percent) returned to the previous level of competition or higher. Of the major league players, 75.5 percent returned to the same level of play. For minor league players 56 percent returned to the same level or higher. The average time from surgery to full competition was 11.6 months after reconstruction, according to study results. Additionally about 10 percent of the patients had complications, mostly minor.

"The increase in the number of UCL reconstructions being done now can be attributed to many things: improved diagnostic techniques, heightened awareness, increased chance of positive outcome with current surgical techniques, but most importantly, the overuse of young throwing arms," said Cain. "It's great that the surgery is successful, but prevention of the injury should be the goal. Kids should be urged to rest and be careful about saving their arms, rather than leading to long-term problems at a young age."

MEDICA.de; Source: American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine