By: Vince Dacus
Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher, Tommy John tore his ulnar collateral ligament during the 1974 season. At the time that was a career ending injury. But, a new surgery returned John to the mound a year and a half later.
Now, 30 years later, more and more pitchers have the surgery named after the former pitcher and most return to baseball.
Tyler Webb, former Gamecock pitcher and now playing for the Triple A affiliate of the New York Yankees, had the surgery during high school.
"I kinda tweaked it the year before and tried to rehab it back with some throwing programs and rest and stuff and almost got fully healthy again and started to throw again and then it completely tore," Webb said
Dr. Wendell Holmes is a surgeon for Moore Orthopedics. He has been performing Tommy John surgery for 17 years.
"Tommy John surgery is where we reconstruct a ligament on the medial side of your elbow. It's like the achilles heel for the throwing athlete. The reason for having surgery is simple. Too many effort throws. You can describe it however you like but the bottom line is if you don't give your body enough time to recover after those high effort throws, your arm is going to break down," Holmes said.
The American Sports Medicine Institute says risk factors may include pitching on multiple teams, pitching year round, playing catcher when not pitching and bad mechanics. The institute also has tips to young pitchers to help reduce the risk of having the surgery. They include, changing pitch speeds, communication between pitcher and coach, throwing from flat surfaces and avoid playing winter baseball.
Josh Ortegon is a Columbia sports trainer and owner of Athletes Arena in Irmo. He says more needs to be done to protect young arms.
"Play another sport, take four months off a year, and learn how to become a better sport parent and choose your coaches wisely," Ortegon said.
Over 40 major leaguers had the surgery done this past season. A pitcher that has the surgery usually needs 12 to 15 months to recover.
The institute also says that 10 to 20 percent of pitchers never make it back to their previous level after the surgery.