Factories and offices aren’t the only U.S. workplaces where repetitive-motion injuries are a serious hazard. On the baseball diamond, major league pitchers put their bodies at risk by repeatedly hurling a baseball at speeds ranging from 80 to 100 mph. The throwing motion puts enormous stress on the shoulder, elbow and other body parts, making pitchers susceptible to tendinitis, labral tears, oblique strains and the dreaded “dead arm.”
There is some good news, however. New data suggests that most pitchers who undergo ulnar collateral reconstruction – better known as Tommy John surgery – return to the mound fairly quickly, and even experience a boost in their performance.
“Our research showed 83 percent of MLB pitchers undergoing this elbow surgery returned to pitching, with most returning after an average of 20.5 months,” said Dr. Anil Gupta of Rush University Medical Center in Chicago. “Not only that, but more than 97 percent of the pitchers studied at least returned to the minor leagues – impressive results for a major surgical reconstruction that requires an extensive recovery period.”
The research revealed that the ERAs of pitchers returning from Tommy John surgery dropped from 5.7 to 4.2, and their annual losses dropped from 4.4 to 3.1, on average.
The research also showed that MLB pitchers returning from Tommy John surgery were able to play baseball for an average of four more years.
“We do caution looking too much into the improved stats for pitchers,” Gupta said. “We did still find pitchers had fewer innings pitched and total wins after surgery, and we do not want to suggest Tommy John surgery is an option for improved performance. More needs to be done to learn about this surgery at all levels of baseball, including the high school and collegiate level, as well as how it changes a pitcher’s role and style.”
The research, which was presented at the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine’s Specialty Day, examined 179 MLB pitchers from 1986 to 2012.