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Performance Enhancing Surgery

Performance Enhancing Surgery

The truth about UCL reconstruction, or Tommy John surgery…

Taking performance enhancing drugs and supplements has become the mainstay for any athlete wishing to gain an unfair advantage over other competitors. But in this day an age it’s not just illegal drugs that threaten the values of sportsmanship, the number of performance enhancing cosmetic plastic surgeries are now on the rise and at the top of that list is a procedure known as ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) reconstruction, perhaps more famously known as Tommy John surgery.

While some surgeries have been shown to be effective in improving performance, especially when injuries ace concerned, other procedures are shroud in misconepctions, which experts say could be doing athletes more harm than good.

Dr. Christopher Ahmad, an associate professor of orthopedic surgery at Columbia University and head team physician for the New York Yankees explained to Fox News that many baseball pitchers believe that Tommy John surgery will allow them to throw more effectively.

This belief stems from the story of former Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Tommy John, who famously recovered from an UCL injury thanks the procedure carried out by Dr. Frank Jobe, an orthopedic surgeon and special advisor to the Dodgers. John injured is elbow in the middle of a great season in 1974. He was out for almost two years, before returning to win more games than ever before.

tyler walker after ucl surgery 550x440 Performance Enhancing Surgery

Tyler Walker Pitching After Recovering From UCL Surgery

Image Credit: Tom Cliffton, 2007.

Its stories of amazing recoveries such as John’s that have lead the next generation of athletes to believe that UCL surgery may improve their performance. Ahmad notes one study in which 50% of student athletes believed the surgery should be performed even in absence of injury.

The main point that experts stress is the fact that any surgery comes with risks, and for UCL reconstruction those risks include stiffening of the elbow and muscle tearing, both of which are injuries that could permanently end an athletes career.

The recover period for UCL surgery is at least one year, another factor that can be extremely tough to re-bounce from mentally.

Ahmad points out that the success rate of Tommy John surgery maybe somewhat skewed. He claims that research and the media tend to highlight those who come back to play better, whereas those who did not come back simply get forgotten about. He also notes that there is no definitive “research that says if you have surgery, you come back and throw faster and harder.” [Fox]

Ahamd also worries that such belief may lead to more injuries in case where coaches and pitchers become more reckless because they assume any injury can be fixed. He went on to quote another study that found 30% of coaches did not think that throwing too much would lead to injury.

These misconceptions raise concerns that coaches, sports physicians, and the athletes themselves are not being properly educated on the dangers of such surgeries, and that more focus needs to put into teaching such knowledge.

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  1. Loren Grush: Tommy John surgery: The next student steroid? Fox News, 09/21/2012.

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