Have You Ever Heard About the Tommy John Injury?

With springtime here that means one thing, baseball season! Parents are loading up equipment and athletes are dedicating long hours into the sport they love. It is very important for both parents and athletes to watch out for elbow pain as it can result in something known as Tommy John Injury. Below you will learn more about this injury and ways to improve symptoms. Call Bryant Orthopedic and Sports Physical Therapy to learn more about how to prevent this injury.


What is Tommy John Injuries?

Does your elbow hurt? You might be suffering from Ulnar Collateral Ligament (UCL) injury. This injury is also called a Tommy John injury. A Tommy John Injury is an injury to the UCL, or to the medial-lateral ligament.

UCL Have You Ever Heard About the Tommy John Injury?






History of Tommy John Injury:

Tommy John was a pitcher for the LA Dodgers in the 1970s. In the middle of an excellent 1974 season, John had a 13–3 record as the Dodgers were en route to their first National League pennant in eight years, before he permanently damaged his UCL in his pitching arm, leading to a revolutionary surgical operation. The surgery was performed by Dr. Frank Jobe on September 25, 1974, and it seemed unlikely he would ever be able to pitch again, as he spent the entire 1975 season in recovery. When Dr. Frank Jobe performed an ulnar collateral ligament reconstruction on the pitcher, the first of its kind at the time, the surgery was named after the pitcher.


Why is the Ulnar Collateral Ligament Important?

The UCL is important for stability when throwing or pitching. An overhead throw has five phases: Phase 1 (wind up) Phase2 (cocking) Phase 3 (acceleration) Phase 4 (deceleration) Phase 5 (follow-through). In the third phase of acceleration, that is where the athlete is actually throwing the ball. The power is in the throw, and the shoulders, elbow, and muscles are most active at this critical phase. During this time, an extension can occur at a rate of almost 2500 degrees per second, all while at 20-degree flexion. For power and movement, the forearm is behind the upper arm so the elbow depends on UCL’s anterior band for stability. The sheer force of the stress on the UCL is more than the tensile strength of the ligament. As a result, the UCL suffers small tears or complete ruptures.


Symptoms of UCL Injuries:

Not all elbow pain is a UCL injury that requires Tommy John surgery.

An MRI is required to diagnose Tommy John injuries. Some symptoms you should watch out for are:

  • Pain on the inside of the elbow
  • Decreased throwing ability and stability in the arm
  • Tingling in the latter two fingers: ring and pinky
  • Irritation or discomfort at the ulnar nerve (funny bone)
  • Loose elbow or unstable elbow

Athletes Most Prone to UCL Injuries:

Athletes who are most at risk of suffering elbow injuries are those who perform repetitive overhead movements that cause strain and stress on the elbow, such as:

  • Pitchers in baseball
  • Catchers in baseball and softball
  • Gymnasts
  • Javelin throwers
  • Tennis players
  • Wrestlers
  • Football players, especially quarterbacks
  • Water polo players

How to improve a Tommy John Injury:

  1. Focus on the Shoulder and Scapula Strength
  2. Incorporate Core and Lower Body Training
  3. Restore Mobility and Dynamic Stability

For more information on Tommy John Injuries or if you believe you have symptoms related to Tommy John Injury, contact our physical therapist at Bryant Orthopedic & Sports Physical Therapy. Located in Atwater & Merced, CA.  


Gregory, B., & Nyland, J. (2013). A medial elbow injury in young throwing athletes. Muscles, Ligaments and Tendons Journal, 3(2), 91–100. http://doi.org/10.11138/mltj/2013.3.2.91

margarita Have You Ever Heard About the Tommy John Injury?

Created by: Margarita Perez, Director of Public Health Program Developer

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