You have probably heard of Tommy John surgery if you play baseball or you are a baseball fan. UCL injuries are also known as Tommy John injuries. They are very common in baseball pitchers, but these injuries can occur in many other people, too.
If you have suffered a UCL injury, you will want to find the best Orthopedic Sports Medicine Surgeon in Atlanta for your treatment. Dr. John Andrachuk provides extensive experience when it comes to treating UCL or Tommy John injuries and other sports injuries.
What is the Ulnar Collateral Ligament (UCL)?
The Ulnar Collateral Ligament (UCL) is a strong band of tissue located inside the elbow. It attaches on one side to the humerus and on the other side to the ulna. The UCL is comprised of three bands, which include the anterior, transverse, and posterior bands. The anterior band is the most important of the three bands for stability within the elbow.
What are UCL Injuries?
The most common type of UCL injury is called a UCL tear. This type of tear will happen gradually or it could happen in a single traumatic event. There are three grades of UCL injuries:
- Grade 1 – When the ligament is stretched, but it is not torn.
- Grade 2 – When the ligament is stretched and might have a partial tear
- Grade 3 – When the ligament is completely torn
The severity of your UCL injury will likely determine the type of treatment you need and the length of your recovery.
Why are UCL Injuries Called Tommy John Injuries?
Since UCL injuries are very common with pitches, they have become known as Tommy John injuries. The name comes from Tommy John himself. In the 1970s, Tommy John was a pitcher for the Los Angeles Dodgers. He ruptured the UCL tendon in his elbow and his doctor performed a UCL reconstruction. It was the first time this surgery was performed, so it became known as Tommy John Surgery.
Today, many pitchers suffer UCL injuries and it leads to Tommy John surgery. It’s a common term used to describe surgeries done on pitchers in baseball.
Common Causes of UCL Injuries
While pitching in baseball is one of the most common causes of UCL injuries, these injuries can happen with other athletes too. Athletes most at risk of this type of elbow injury include:
- Pitchers in baseball
- Catchers in both baseball and softball
- Javelin throwers
- Tennis players
- Football players, specifically quarterbacks
- Water polo players
It’s rather common for youth baseball pitchers to suffer this type of injury. The risk is highest during high school for pitchers but doesn’t go away as pitchers develop. The repetitive motion of pitching can lead to a Tommy John injury.
What are the Symptoms of UCL Injuries?
The most common symptom of a UCL injury is elbow pain. However, this may not be sudden pain. It may develop over time.
It’s also possible to feel a pop or sudden pain inside the elbow with a UCL injury. Pain may also be felt when accelerating the arm forward in a pitching motion. Tingling and numbness in the ring finger and pinky finger may also be a part of the symptoms.
UCL injuries can make it very difficult to participate in any sport that requires throwing. However, this type of injury may not impact your daily activities. It’s also common that you will still be able to exercise, run, and perform other non-throwing activities with a UCL injury.
UCL (Tommy John) Injury Diagnosis
Diagnosing a UCL inju8ry isn’t always easy. It can be a bit more difficult compared to treating this type of injury. A UCL tear will likely be diagnosed through a physical exam including a valgus stress test. An X-ray and MRI scan may also be used to see any change in the UCL related to stress. However, these two tests are rarely used to diagnose a UCL tear, alone. While an MRI can show the tear, it may not be 100% accurate.
UCL Injuries Treatment
Depending on your goals and the injury, a UCL injury may be treated surgically or non-surgically. Nonsurgical treatments often include RICE therapy, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications, and physical therapy. Rest, ice, compression, and elevation can help minor UCL injuries heal, but physical therapy is often a part of the process.
If you have a serious injury or you’re an athlete, you may undergo Tommy John Surgery for the injury. This is UCL reconstruction surgery, which will include using a tendon from another area of the body or a donor. This new tendon will become the new UCL. Tunnels will be drilled in the humerus and ulna to secure the new tendon.
Tommy John (UCL) Injury Recovery Time
When a UCL injury can be treated without surgery, you will likely need several weeks or several months to fully recover. The recovery time will depend on your range of motion and the severity of the injury.
When Tommy John Surgery is necessary, expect a recovery period of nine months to a year. In some cases, it will take longer to recover. Those planning to return to throwing and competing will need physical therapy to gain the necessary strength back.
Schedule an Appointment Today!
Dr. Andrachuk provides extensive experience in treating UCL injuries. If you’ve suffered a Tommy John injury during athletic activity or you’re experiencing pain, it’s time to seek medical help. Dr. Andrachuk offers conservative treatments, along with the best astroscopic and minimally invasive techniques available to get you back on the field as soon as possible. Contact us today and schedule your in-person or telemedicine appointment!