By Loren Grush
When it comes to high school and college sports, young athletes often yearn for bigger muscles to enhance their performance. But for student baseball pitchers, strength isn’t so much the goal as it is speed – throwing speed, that is.
Now, student athletes looking for a way to get an extra boost in their pitching arm have been putting their hopes in an elective surgery called ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) reconstruction – more famously known as Tommy John surgery.
However, according to one doctor, misconceptions surround Tommy John surgery, cautioning it isn’t necessarily the miraculous savior that student athletes think it is.
“They believe the surgery can allow you to throw more effectively,” Dr. Christopher Ahmad, an associate professor of orthopedic surgery at Columbia University and head team physician for the New York Yankees, told FoxNews.com. “It’s not much different than thinking performance enhancing drugs can make you throw harder.”
Surgery risks, recovery
Named after former Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Tommy John, the reconstructive elbow surgery became famous in 1974 when John damaged his UCL in the middle of a great 13 - 3 season. With no options available and desperate to keep playing baseball, John approached Dr. Frank Jobe – an orthopedic surgeon and special advisor to the Dodgers – begging him to come up with a surgery to save his pitching arm.
Jobe eventually figured out a way to replace John’s injured UCL with a tendon graft from his forearm. Once John underwent the surgery and fully recovered, he returned to baseball in 1976, ultimately winning more games after his surgery than before.
According to Ahmad, because of John and others like him who have had successful careers post-UCL reconstruction, student athletes are starting to get the wrong idea about Tommy John surgery. In a recent study published by Ahmad in The Physician and Sportsmedicine, 50 percent of student athletes believed the surgery should be performed in absence of injury in order to improve performance – a mindset, he said, that could prove to be dangerous.