-- Robert Preidt
THURSDAY, July 10, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Pitchers who start
playing Major League Baseball at a young age may be at increased
risk for requiring elbow surgery later in their career, according
to a new study.
Researchers looked at 168 pitchers who spent at least one season
in the major leagues and subsequently had surgery to repair a torn
ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) in the elbow of their throwing
These players were compared to 178 age-matched major league
pitchers who did not undergo UCL reconstruction, widely referred to
as "Tommy John" surgery.
About 60 percent of the pitchers who required UCL reconstruction
had the surgery within their first five years of being in the major
leagues. Compared to pitchers who did not have the surgery, those
who underwent the procedure had more major league experience at the
same age, which suggests that arm stress from earlier major league
experience contributed to the elbow damage, the study authors
The researchers also found that pitchers who entered the major
leagues at younger ages appeared to be more likely to require UCL
reconstruction. In addition, the study found that 87 percent of
pitchers who had UCL reconstruction returned to major league play,
but had a significant decline in performance after their
"Our results suggest that UCL reconstructive surgery does a tremendous job in allowing players to return to their same level of sport but it also describes a decline in pitching performance after undergoing reconstruction," study lead author Dr. Robert Keller, of Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, said in a news release from the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine (AOSSM).
"We also found that there is a statistically significant decline in pitching performance the year before reconstructive surgery and this decline was found to be a risk factor for requiring surgery," Keller explained.
"Having athletic trainers and team physicians closely look at when players' pitching performance stats start to decrease may allow for steps to be taken with a pitcher before a surgery is needed," Keller suggested. "Our study also further highlights the need for kids not to overuse their arms early in their pitching careers," he added.
Study results were presented Thursday at the annual meeting of
the AOSSM. Findings presented at meetings are generally considered
preliminary until they've been published in a peer-reviewed
The UCL is located on the inside of the elbow and connects the
bone of the upper arm to a bone in the forearm. "Tommy John"
surgery is named after former major league pitcher Tommy John, who
was the first ballplayer to undergo the procedure back in 1974.
Oregon Health & Science University has more about
Tommy John surgery.
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