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Tommy John Surgery

Expert Elbow Surgeons in Orange County, CA

Known as ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) reconstruction, “Tommy John” surgery is used to reconstruct a torn UCL, the ligament inside the elbow that helps secure it. Often, the UCL is damaged by athletes who play throwing sports, such as baseball pitchers, who experience painful and function-limiting tears. This procedure was first performed on a baseball pitcher named Tommy John in 1974 – hence it is more commonly referred to as the “Tommy John” Surgery, given that he was able to successfully return to pitching rather than this resulting in a career-ending event, with this innovative procedure.

At Newport Orthopedic Institute, the procedure is performed by board-certified orthopedic Sports Medicine or Elbow surgeons who are skilled at helping athletes recover from debilitating injuries.

What to expect from Tommy John Surgery?

The goal of Tommy John surgery is to stabilize the elbow, reduce or eliminate elbow pain and restore stability and range of motion. The procedure involves replacing the torn UCL with a harvested tendon that is grafted onto the injury site. The tendon graft is usually from a cadaver (allograft), after undergoing proper sterilization and preparation, or can be taken from the patient’s own forearm, hamstring, or big toe (autograft). While most surgeons use an allograft given its success history, our surgeons discuss will both options with the patient to determine what is best for that individual. During surgery, your surgeon will access the elbow joint with a 3- to 4-inch incision made on the inside of the elbow. To gain access to the injured ligament, your doctor will move the muscles and other tissues out of the way to assess before removing the damaged ligament and tissue. The graft is then inserted where the damaged ligament is removed. Almost always, any healthy portions of the original ligament are attached to the graft, which helps to reinforce the structure and expedited the growth of the patient’s own cells into the graft.

Recovery from Tommy John Surgery

After surgery, patients have a brief period of rest followed by a customized rehabilitation protocol tailored to individual patient needs that involves physical therapy in several phases. The length of each stage varies by patient, depending on how fast they are healing. Immediately following surgery, the patient will be fitted with an elbow brace that will secure the elbow at a 60- to 90- degree angle. Physical therapy can begin right away, and usually starts with addressing the wrist, fingers, shoulder and biceps to prevent muscle atrophy. Next, the elbow joint itself will be addressed through physical therapy that focuses on gradually increasing the range of motion of your elbow and limiting any symptoms of pain. Based on your level of activity (i.e. routine activities or elite professional athlete), the protocol may vary.

Schedule a consultation with an Elbow Surgeon at Newport Orthopedic Institute for Tommy John surgery in Orange County.

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  • Elbow Arthroscopy "Dr. Gazzaniga was really informative on my procedure and seemed like he really cared about how my area of concern was doing pre op and post op. He didn't push for me to have the surgery." Provider: David S Gazzaniga MD
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