Preventing Tommy Johns Surgery for Baseball Pitchers

It’s baseball season, and as you know, the season is never long enough! Luckily, with adult leagues and pick up games, this is a sport that people of all ages enjoy and are involved with year round.  Baseball remains America’s #1 Pastime in the spring and summer seasons.

Even though baseball isn’t widely thought of as being more dangerous than football, statistics show otherwise. Therefore it is important to be aware (as with any sport) of the potential injury risks of playing baseball and how to avoid them.  Pitchers, for example, have a high risk for tearing muscles in their throwing arm throughout the season.  Proper stretching and strengthening is vital to avoid injuries and mitigate risk. When elbow ligaments tear, players can be forced to undergo Tommy John surgery as a cure.

Some pitchers are taking precaution to an extreme.  Interestingly, there is a rising trend of high schoolers to major league pitchers undergoing Tommy John surgery as a “precautionary measure” to strengthen their throwing arms. This is no small decision. There are major repercussions and potential problems that can arise if one decides to take such an aggressive step, especially at young age.  The surgery itself is risky and recipients of the surgery are subject to a year of difficult and strenuous rehabilitation before they can get back in the game.  When performing this operation, a doctor is detaching major muscles and dealing with nerves. This may result in a painful recovery, numbness, and as with any surgery, there is a risk of infection.

When Tommy John himself received the surgery, there was only a 1 in 100 chance of recovery. While the odds are much better today,  (about 83% of operations go as planned) there is never a 100% guarantee of a full recovery and they rehabilitation can be slow and painful.

Receiving such an intensive surgery is a decision that should never be taken lightly.  There are many things that pitchers and other baseball players can to avoid injuries and painful surgeries during baseball season. Some preventative measures include the following:

  1. Invest in the right baseball equipment. Getting the appropriate baseball equipment is extremely important and is often overlooked as most people think that baseball bats and gloves are universally fitted for everyone.  It’s important to get sporting equipment that best fits your body and your form.  Utilize online resources, like this one from OLLB.org, that shows you what to look for and how to measure your hand for the best glove fit. You can often find these helpful tips from your local sporting goods store, like Atlanta’s BetterBaseball.  They specialize in making sure you get the best glove fit and baseball bat size to complement your individual size and form.
  2. Do not pitch all year round. Give your body a chance to recover and rest by switching to an outfield position a few months out of the year. (Especially when participating in year-round baseball training). This will minimize stress on your elbow muscles and put you at less of a risk for Tommy Johns surgery.
  3. Do not over pitch. You don’t need to pitch 100% every time you throw. Make sure you mix up your technique and your style so you’re not over working the same muscles.
  4. See a physical therapist. If you’re playing often enough, it might be worth it to consult a professional about the best ways you can treat your body during your workouts.
  5. Most importantly, make sure you’re exercising the right way. Take time out of every work out to stretch. It seems like such a small step, but it will greatly minimize your risk of badly injuring yourself. It is recommended to stretch and warm up before and after every game.

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