Tommy John Surgery

Tommy John Surgery

Treats Ulnar Collateral Ligament (UCL) Injuries of the Elbow

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Any sport that involves a throwing motion can lead to a tear in the ulnar collateral ligament -- a band of tough, flexible tissue that stabilizes the elbow joint. Besides baseball, that can include football, racquet sports, javelin, and volleyball. Symptoms of a torn or damaged UCL include pain on the inside of your elbow. You may also notice that your throw has less power. Tommy John surgery can treat this painful injury and eventually return you to the sport you love.

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About Tommy John Surgery

The Goal of Tommy John Surgery (UCL Reconstruction)
Tommy John surgery repairs a torn UCL. The goal is to stabilize the elbow, restore range of motion, and reduce pain. It may be recommended for athletes who frequently throw overhead or place significant stress on the inside part of the elbow.

More Younger Athletes Having Tommy John Surgery
In recent years, more young athletes have begun having this surgery. These younger players are especially vulnerable to injuring their elbows because their bones are still growing. They also often play baseball year-round with little time for rest.

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Duke Health offers locations throughout the Triangle. Find one near you.


Examination and Imaging

Your orthopaedic surgeon will ask about your symptoms and examine your elbow. You may have X-rays or an MRI to help identify your injury. 

Nonsurgical Treatment

Whenever possible, your doctor will first try nonsurgical treatments such as physical therapy or anti-inflammatory medicines. You may be a candidate for Tommy John surgery if nonsurgical methods don’t help.

Surgery and Rehab

Tommy John Surgery

Tommy John surgery, also called UCL reconstruction, involves replacing the torn ligament with a tissue graft that becomes a platform where new ligament tissue can grow. The graft is usually taken from one of your own healthy tendons, but it can also be cadaver tissue. 

Physical Therapy

After surgery, you’ll need physical therapy to help you restore your strength and movement. You also may wear a special brace for a while to protect your elbow. People who have Tommy John surgery can typically return to their sport. Complete recovery takes about 12 months.

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Why Choose Duke

Experience and Skill
Tommy John surgery is uncommon and very specialized. Your surgical team’s level of experience is an important factor in the success of the procedure. Duke surgeons perform multiple Tommy John surgeries each year.

Specialized Physical Therapists
After your surgery, a physical therapist who specializes in elbow rehabilitation will work with you to help you restore your strength and movement. 

Duke University Hospital is nationally ranked in 10 adult specialties
Consistently Ranked Among the Nation’s Best Hospitals
In addition, Duke University Hospital is proud to be named the best hospital in North Carolina, and nationally ranked in 10 adult and 9 pediatric specialties by U.S. News & World Report for 2019–2020.
Reviewed: 09/25/2018