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What to Know When Considering Tommy John Surgery in NYC

Ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) injuries occur due to repetitive stress on the inside of the elbow, resulting in ligament deterioration or tearing. With the popularity of overhead sports – particularly baseball – and the year-round intensive training involved with playing sports competitively, it may not be surprising to hear that UCL injuries are on the rise. Among adolescent baseball pitchers, research has shown that the amount of competitive pitching and pitching while fatigued are strongly linked to UCL injury. In addition, risk factors may also include pitching on multiple teams, pitching year-round, playing catcher when not pitching, and having poor pitching mechanics and poor physical conditioning.

According to the American Sports Medicine Institute, the growing number of professional athletes requiring Tommy John surgery to repair UCL injuries can, in many cases, be traced back to the ligament wear and tear that started when these players were in their adolescent years.

Regardless of age or playing level, an ulnar collateral ligament injury is one that requires proper treatment in order to ensure a full recovery. Treatment helps to restore function, stability and balance following a UCL injury. Manhattan orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Steven J. Lee, specializes in Tommy John surgery, also known as ulnar collateral ligament reconstruction for the treatment of throwing injuries in athletes of all ages.


What is the ulnar collateral ligament?

Collateral ligaments are the outer and inner ligaments that hold the elbow joint in place. Specifically, the ulnar collateral ligament is the ligament that connects the inner side of the humerus bone (upper arm bone) to the inner side of the ulna bone (one of the forearm bones). This ligament stabilizes and supports the elbow and makes it possible to perform motions like throwing a ball.


Who is at risk for an ulnar collateral ligament injury ?

Often referred to as a throwing injury, it may come as no surprise that individuals who repetitively perform throwing motions are at the highest risk for an ulnar collateral ligament injury. Professional baseball pitchers, and college and high school-level baseball players alike are all susceptible to injuries in the elbow ligaments due to repetitive motion and overuse. Of the two collateral ligaments in the elbow, the UCL is often where injury occurs because of the extraordinary stress placed on this ligament when throwing a ball.

In addition to baseball players, athletes in other sports including volleyball players, javelin throwers, tennis players, gymnasts, soccer players, softball players, football players and wrestlers are among those at a higher risk for developing this type of injury.

A UCL injury can range in severity, from an acute rupture of the ligament to a slow deterioration over time. Depending on what type of injury you have, the appropriate treatment will differ.


What is Tommy John surgery?

Ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) reconstruction surgery is known to many as Tommy John surgery. Tommy John is a famous Major League Baseball pitcher who underwent a UCL procedure in the 1970s that used a tendon graft to successfully replace his damaged ulnar collateral ligament. After undergoing this successful surgery, Tommy John was able to continue his career as a professional baseball pitcher.


What does an ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) reconstruction involve?

UCL reconstruction is only considered when an unstable or torn UCL cannot be treated using nonsurgical options. When undergoing Tommy John surgery in NYC, a patient’s ulnar collateral ligament will be reconstructed using a tendon graft. Often times, the tendon is taken from another healthy ligament within the patient’s body, such as the wrist, forearm or hamstring. During the surgery, small openings will be made in the ulna and humerus and the tendon will then be carefully passed through these openings in order to reconstruct the UCL.

While most UCL tears cannot simply be sutured back together, which is why a graft is usually required to reinforce the damaged ligament, the remaining portions of the original ligament can be sutured to the new tendon during the surgery, in order to give the graft added strength.


Where can I find a specialist in Tommy John surgery in NYC?

Dr. Steven Lee is a double fellowship-trained orthopedic surgeon who completed an upper extremity fellowship at NYU-Hospital for Joint Diseases and a second fellowship in sports medicine at Lenox Hill Hospital. Throughout his many years of training and surgical experience, Dr. Lee has developed a specialty in treating ligament and cartilage injuries in throwing athletes, including injuries requiring ulnar collateral ligament reconstruction (Tommy John surgery). Dr. Lee has treated many college-level and professional athletes, including serving as the team physician for the New Jersey Red Dogs and Gladiators Professional Arena Football teams, and for Hofstra University athletic teams. He has also served as a consultant for the PGA tour.

Whether you’re a professional athlete or a weekend warrior, Dr. Lee can help guide you through the decision-making process when dealing with a UCL injury. To learn more about Tommy John surgery in NYC from a leading UCL reconstruction surgeon, request a consultation with Dr. Lee today.

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