Study Shows Teen Athletes Are The Fastest Growing Population Undergoing Elbow Reconstructive Surgery

Jul 22, 2015, 13:19 ET from Midwest Orthopaedics at Rush

CHICAGO, July 22, 2015 /PRNewswire/ -- A new study showing teenage athletes make up more than half of all patients undergoing ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) elbow reconstructive surgery, or "Tommy John" surgery, has sports medicine physicians worried about overuse injuries in young athletes. 

The research was conducted by Midwest Orthopaedics at Rush (MOR) between 2008 and 2011, and was published in the July 2015 issue of the American Journal of Sports Medicine. The study reviewed the average annual increase of Tommy John surgery patients and found 15 to 19-year-olds were the fastest growing patient group.

Led by author Dr. Brandon J. Erickson from Rush University Medical Center and co-authored by MOR sports medicine physicians Drs. Anthony Romeo, Charles Bush-Joseph and Bernard Bach, Jr., the study found that  57 percent of the 790 U.S. Tommy John surgery patients were ages 15 to 19, followed by 22 percent for ages 20 to 24. In addition, the increase in the rate of surgery during this time period among patients ages 15 to 19 was more than twice that of all other patients combined (10% vs. 4%).

"Ten years ago, 'Tommy John' was considered a treatment for Major League Baseball players," explains Dr. Romeo, shoulder/elbow surgeon. "We are pleased with the high level of return to sport after surgery, but concerned that our research indicates the majority of patients are now under age 20." 

"Young baseball players, especially pitchers, need surgery earlier because of the intensity of year-round play, unregulated pitch counts and no cross training. This contributes to shoulder/elbow overuse injuries," admits Dr. Bach, sports medicine surgeon.

Tommy John surgery was named after Los Angeles Dodger Tommy John, the first pitcher to successfully have this surgery. The UCL is tissue inside the elbow connecting the upper arm to the forearm. With repeat throwing, the ligament can tear. During Tommy John surgery, a healthy tendon from an arm or leg is used to reconstruct the torn UCL.   

Alarmed by the rising number of young athletes with overuse injuries, the Illinois Athletic Trainers Association (IATA) and sports medicine physicians at Midwest Orthopaedics at Rush (MOR) have launched Shoulders for Life, a public awareness campaign. For more information on Tommy John surgery, view this video or log on to

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SOURCE Midwest Orthopaedics at Rush