In recent years, there has been a noticeable uptick in the number of Tommy John surgeries among young baseball players. Tommy John surgery, named after the former Major League pitcher who was the first to undergo the procedure in 1974, has become increasingly common, raising concerns about the factors contributing to this rise and its implications for the future of the sport. Check out the latest episode of the Zelos Podcast with my guest, Meaghan Flaherty, Philadelphia Phillies’ Athletic Trainer, as we talk about issues like this.
Understanding Tommy John Surgery: Tommy John surgery, or ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) reconstruction, is a surgical procedure in which a torn or damaged UCL in the elbow is replaced with a tendon from elsewhere in the body. It has been a game-changer for many professional athletes, allowing them to regain their form and continue playing at a high level. However, the surge in Tommy John surgeries among younger players is causing a stir in the baseball community.
Overuse and Specialization: One of the primary factors attributed to the increase in Tommy John surgeries is the trend of overuse and early sports specialization. Young athletes are often pushed to focus on a single sport from a young age, participating in year-round training and playing in multiple leagues and tournaments. The continuous stress on their growing bodies, especially the repetitive arm motions in baseball, may lead to overuse injuries, including UCL tears.
Pitch Counts and Rest: Pitch counts and adequate rest are essential components of injury prevention in baseball, but they are not always adhered to. Coaches, parents, and players themselves may be tempted to exceed recommended pitch counts in pursuit of success on the field. Lack of proper rest between outings can also contribute to increased stress on the elbow and a higher risk of UCL injuries.
Advanced Training Techniques: While advancements in training techniques have undoubtedly improved athletes’ performance, they may also play a role in the rising number of Tommy John surgeries. Players engaging in rigorous and advanced training programs may unknowingly push their bodies beyond their limits, increasing the likelihood of injuries.
Educating Players and Coaches: To address the surge in Tommy John surgeries among young baseball players, it is crucial to prioritize education. Coaches, parents, and players need to be informed about the risks associated with overuse and early specialization. Emphasizing proper training techniques, pitch counts, and rest periods can contribute to a healthier and more sustainable approach to the sport.