It was great to see Garrett Richards opted to rehab his partial torn UCL Ligament instead of opting for Tommy John Surgery.
This choice seems misguided to the general public. Why not just go ahead and get the surgery out of the way? Don’t you come back throwing harder after Tommy John? Isn’t it just part of the job description now?
Unfortunately, the success of the surgery almost now seems to be somewhat of a detriment to the sport. We hear of all the success stories at the Major League level while the high school, college, and minor league pitchers who don’t make it back, or return as a shell of their former selves, are swept under the rug.
The accepted success rate for TJ surgery is somewhere around 80-85 percent. This percentage needs a huge asterisk beside it. Success rate is defined, in this case, as returned to pitch in one game at the level the pitcher was at before the injury occurred. So if a Low A pitcher has Tommy John and comes back to pitch one inning in Low A, it’s a tally for the successful TJ surgery count. If he is throwing 4 MPH slower, in pain, barely makes it through the inning only to get released the next day and quits, it’s a tally for the successful TJ surgery count.
The scary thing is no one really seems to know the cut off for what percentage of a tear is a definite for surgery. There seems to be such a casual attitude towards the surgery now, it’s blindly prescribed for any chronic elbow issue.
100%. Top elbow surgeon told a friend of his that he feels pressure to constantly recommend TJ when it’s unnecessary https://t.co/VXK6rEBCNU
— Kyle Boddy (@drivelinebases) May 17, 2016
If that doesn’t make you leery, I don’t know what will.
Also remember the big league pitchers have big league resources. They get the best surgeons, one-on-one attention from an Athletic Trainer or Physical Therapist, and other rehab methods like soft tissue work. Very few high school and college players are going to have the resources professional baseball players have, lowering the percentage even more.
Hopefully more guys will be successful choosing the Masahio Tanaka and Garrett Richards’ route and pitchers will realize there is more than one option when dealing with damage to the UCL.
And maybe even one day we figure this whole ulnar collateral ligament thing out and prevent some injuries.
If you would like more information on UCL injuries and prevention, I highly recommend Jeff Passan’s new book, The Arm.
Other great resources are: