How does Tommy John surgery work – Jake Delhomme

Who knew Jake Delhomme had Tommy John surgery? Somehow I missed this, but now that I know about it I thought it’d be a good idea to take some time to explain the procedure.

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Tommy John surgery is actually the replacement of ulnar collateral ligament with another ligament in your body. Simple explanation: elbow ligament replaced with a leg ligament. Now, you don’t have to use a leg ligament, but they tend to be the better choice.

The elbow ligament is called the ulnar collateral ligament. I’m just going to use elbow ligament going forward. This ligament can become damaged by the motion of a pitcher in baseball. Tommy Johns suffered this injury in 1974 and it looked like his career was over. Dr. Frank Jobe is the one who conceived of the operation, though he wasn’t convinced it would actually work. Tommy John agreed to the surgery and then spent 18 months rehabbing his arm. The surgery was a success and he ended up pitching for another 13 years.

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Now, before you go rushing out to get the surgery you need to realize a few things:

  1. The sugery has a 80-90% success rate: Yes, this depends on age, condition, etc., but it isn’t 100%. Far from it.
  2. 6-12 months recovery time: The recovery time is significant, as you are building up the endurance and strength of the ligament. Pitchers and quarterbacks take longer to recover than others.
  3. Nerve damage: There is a chance the ulnar nerve can be damaged. If damaged you might suffer from hand and arm issues.

In respect to Jake Delhomme, the surgery has brought back a sense of normalcy to his life.

After being in pain for years – it would hurt just to brush his teeth – Delhomme’s troublesome elbow finally gave out in Week 3 last season. He underwent the surgery, more common for baseball pitchers, where the shredded ligament was replaced with a tendon from his thigh. He then embarked on a long rehab process that started with Delhomme throwing a small Nerf ball.



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