Yes, everyone is susceptible to Tommy John injuries. A Tommy John injury, or an injury to the elbow’s ulnar collateral ligament (UCL), can happen as a result of overuse or continual stress on the ligament in the elbow.
Consistent strain may cause small tears that worsen over time and rupture. Single events resulting in a UCL tear are possible from impact. Particularly violent accidents may sever the ligament.
Common activities that may result in a Tommy John injury include:
- Repetitive throwing motions
- Repetitive overhead reaching
- Falling on the elbow joint
- Traumatic injury to the elbow
- Repetitive exertion of weight on the elbow
- Frequent overarm movements
While most commonly observed in athletes with repetitive throwing motions, a UCL injury can happen to anyone as a result of a single traumatic event causing a tear or strain.
What is a Tommy John Injury?
A Tommy John injury is a tear or strain of the ulnar collateral ligament (UCL). The UCL runs the length of the inner side of the elbow. If torn, an audible “pop” may be heard at the time of injury.
When injured, symptoms may include:
- Weakened hand grip
- Numbness or tingling in the hand
- Bruising near the injury
- Elbow pain
- Elbow stiffness
- Elbow tenderness
- Weakened elbow movement
Minor issues with the UCL may cause ligament inflammation or strain. Many who suffer from a UCL injury report elbow pain and stiffness. It is also common to see swelling and bruising along the length of the arm and hand.
Diagnosing Ulnar Collateral Ligament Injuries
UCL injuries should be diagnosed by an orthopedic specialist or sports injury practitioner. These injuries may share symptoms with other conditions and may be difficult to diagnose in many circumstances.
To diagnose a UCL injury, a specialist will examine the elbow and apply a valgus stress test to assess your elbow for any signs of instability. The valgus test will mimic pressure put on the ligament during throwing or reaching movements and assess the pain level and mobility of your elbow.
MRls or X-rays may also be required to confirm a diagnosis, but they are usually just one of many diagnostic tests used to identify a UCL injury.
There are three grades of Tommy John injuries. The diagnosed grade increases based on the severity of the sprain.
- Grade One: The ligament is stretched, causing discomfort and soreness.
- Grade Two: The ligament is partially torn and may have small tears in more than one place.
- Grade Three: The ligament suffers a complete tear and may require reconstruction surgery.
Rehabilitation is important for recovery from UCL injuries. An experienced medical professional will recommend the best course of action to prevent further injury.
Treatment Options for UCL Injuries
Treatment will vary depending on the severity of the injury. For more favorable outcomes that encourage healing, consult with a qualified orthopedic doctor. Orthopedists who specialize in sports injuries are often ideally qualified to diagnose and treat UCL injuries, even if the injury was sustained outside of an athletic event.
Minor tears to the ulnar collateral ligament may heal on their own, and non-surgical measures may accelerate or promote a faster, fuller recovery.
- Anti-inflammatory medication
- Physical therapy
- Bracing or a sling
Recovery from a UCL tear or strain that is treated non-surgically may take weeks to months. During this time, you may be forced to cope with a limited range of motion in the elbow and arm.
The Tommy John surgery involves using a tendon from either a donor or somewhere else in the body to perform a tendon graft, replacing the torn ligament. Many patients can return home the same day with a brace after this outpatient procedure.
Recovery from UCL reconstruction surgery may take anywhere from nine months to a year. You can expect to supplement this process with rehabilitation and physical therapy, both of which may be recommended and outlined by your orthopedic physician.
Schedule an Appointment for UCL Treatment With Centennial Orthopedics in Roseburg, Oregon
Have you been injured and need orthopedic care? We craft optimal treatment plans for patients who have suffered Tommy John injuries and other sports or repetitive motion injuries.
Contact us today at (541) 229-2663 to schedule an appointment