Skip to main content

Tommy John Surgery Specialist

Sports Medicine Center

Sports Medicine & Orthopedics located in Appleton, WI

Tommy John surgery — named for the major league pitcher who was the first athlete to have the procedure — is a surgery to repair a torn ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) in the elbow. At Sports Medicine Center in Appleton, Wisconsin, leading sports medicine surgeon Etienne Mejia, MD, has the specialized knowledge and surgical skills needed for this advanced procedure. Learn more about Tommy John surgery by booking your consultation online, or call the office today.

Tommy John Surgery Q&A

What is Tommy John surgery?

Tommy John surgery is the common name for ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) reconstruction. In 1974, pitcher Tommy John was the first athlete to have this procedure. 

While surgical techniques have evolved, and it's now a minimally invasive arthroscopic procedure, the purpose of this surgery remains the same: stabilizing your elbow, restoring your range of motion, and relieving pain caused by UCL ligament damage.

Who needs Tommy John surgery?

Most people who need Tommy John surgery are baseball pitchers, softball pitchers, football quarterbacks, and other throwing athletes who experience UCL tears. Throwing athletes are at particular risk for UCL injuries because of repetitive overuse and throwing with high velocity.

While nonsurgical treatments such as physical therapy, rest, changed throwing mechanics, and anti-inflammatory medication don't work, or when these measures can't return you to your pre-injury function, Tommy John surgery could be the best option for a full recovery. 

What are the signs of UCL ligament damage?

Some of the possible symptoms of UCL ligament damage include:

  • Inner elbow pain that worsens with throwing motions
  • Decreased pitching velocity
  • Decreased pitching accuracy
  • Reduced range-of-motion
  • Elbow instability
  • Popping sound or feeling while pitching
  • Tingling in the ring and little fingers in one arm
  • Numbness in the ring and little fingers in one arm
  • Reduced gripping strength

These symptoms might not prevent ordinary activities at home, but they can definitely decrease your function and comfort on the field. 

How does Tommy John surgery work?

In Tommy John surgery, Dr. Mejia takes a healthy tendon from another part of your body — usually the forearm, hamstring, or big toe — to use as your new UCL. 

He removes the damaged tissue from your elbow and creates insertion points in your ulna and humerus bones for the tendon. 

Dr. Mejia threads the graft through those insertion points and uses internal hardware, tiny buttons, or in-bone sutures for optimal stability. He may join your original UCL with the new graft. Your graft serves as scaffolding, a basis upon which a new ligament can grow. 

What happens after Tommy John surgery?

After your surgery, you wear a special hinged brace, and you begin physical therapy almost immediately. Over the next few months, you return to your normal range of motion and strength through continued physical therapy. 

In general, after an aggressive physical therapy and rehab program, competitive athletes may need 12 months or longer to return to their sport after Tommy John surgery. 

Dr. Mejia can design a personalized UCL recovery plan for you. He understands your unique needs as an athlete, and he’s here to support your return to full activity.

Call Sports Medicine Center or use the online scheduler to discuss Tommy John surgery now.