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  • Writer's pictureAJ Kirkpatrick, PT, DPT

Recovering Stronger: A Comprehensive Guide to Tommy John Surgery Rehabilitation

Shohei Ohtani is just the latest on a long list of professional baseball players to consider a Tommy John Surgery. Tommy John surgery, formally known as ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) reconstruction surgery, has become a familiar term in the world of professional sports. Named after the famous Major League Baseball pitcher who underwent the procedure in 1974, this surgery has saved countless athletes' careers. However, it's not just professional athletes who can benefit from Tommy John surgery; anyone suffering from a damaged UCL can regain their elbow's strength and function through this procedure. In this blog post, we'll explore Tommy John surgery, what it entails, and the essential steps in the rehabilitation process to help you recover stronger.

Understanding Tommy John Surgery:

Tommy John surgery is typically recommended when the UCL, a ligament on the inner side of the elbow, becomes injured or torn. This injury often results from repetitive stress or overuse, commonly seen in baseball pitchers but can occur in other sports and activities as well.

The surgical procedure involves replacing the damaged UCL with a graft, usually harvested from the patient's forearm or a donor tendon. This graft is then attached to the bone with anchors or sutures, creating a strong and stable connection. While the surgery itself is a significant step towards recovery, the key to success lies in the post-operative rehabilitation process.

Rehabilitation After Tommy John Surgery:

The Tommy John surgery rehabilitation process is a well-structured journey that typically spans several months. Its primary goals are to:

1. Protect the surgical site: Immediately after surgery, the elbow is immobilized with a brace or splint to allow the graft to heal without disruption.

2. Reduce pain and inflammation: Pain management is a crucial aspect of the early recovery phase. Medications, ice, and physical modalities may be used to control pain and swelling.

3. Restore range of motion: Gradual, controlled exercises are introduced to help regain the elbow's range of motion without stressing the newly reconstructed ligament.

4. Strengthen the forearm and surrounding muscles: Once the graft has healed sufficiently, a carefully planned strengthening program is initiated. This helps rebuild muscle strength and endurance in the forearm, shoulder, and upper arm.

5. Improve proprioception and neuromuscular control: Specialized exercises are incorporated to enhance the coordination and proprioception of the elbow, which is crucial for proper function during sports and daily activities.

6. Gradual return to sports or activities: Depending on the individual's progress and the surgeon's recommendations, a gradual return-to-play protocol is followed, ensuring that the athlete is ready to resume their sport safely.

Tips for a Successful Recovery:

1. Follow your physical therapist's guidance: Adhering to your physical therapist's instructions is vital for a successful recovery. They will create a tailored rehabilitation plan based on your specific needs and progress.

2. Patience is key: Tommy John surgery recovery takes time, and rushing the process can lead to setbacks. Be patient, stay committed, and celebrate small victories along the way.

3. Maintain open communication: Keep your surgeon and physical therapist informed about any pain, discomfort, or changes in your recovery progress. Open communication ensures adjustments can be made if necessary.

4. Focus on overall health: A balanced diet, adequate sleep, and proper hydration are essential for healing. Ensure you're taking care of your overall health throughout your recovery.

Tommy John surgery can be a game-changer for individuals with UCL injuries, helping them return to their favorite activities and sports stronger than before. However, the key to success lies in the comprehensive rehabilitation process, guided by skilled physical therapists and surgeons. Remember that recovery is a journey, and with patience, commitment, and professional guidance, you can regain the strength and function of your elbow, setting you on the path to success. If you are in the Mission Viejo area and think you, or someone you know, might be experiencing UCL pain, please don’t hesitate to reach out and schedule a free consultation!

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