Physical Therapy to Reduce Risk of Tommy John Surgery

This article was written for Bodycentral Physical Therapy Tucson.

This article is not designed for treatment purposes; it has been written to help patients find us.  Please contact BodyCentral Physical Therapy at (520)325-4002 to schedule an appointment today or visit

Surgery to repair the ulnar collateral ligament of the elbow, more commonly known as Tommy John surgery, is a common procedure performed on the overhead athlete such as baseball players. The throwing and pitching motion places increased stress on the elbow joint, which can cause pain and eventual serious injury at the elbow. Throwing and pitching with pain and soreness is not normal. Baseball players experiencing elbow pain with throwing are at increased risk for suffering an elbow injury leading to Surgery. The key is to prevent a serious injury before it happens. A baseball player with elbow pain should seek appropriate treatment to prevent any further injury.

Physical therapy is a highly effective method for treating elbow pain and preventing Tommy John surgery among baseball players and other overhead athletes. Physical therapy uses a variety of manual therapy techniques to decrease inflammation and soreness and improve mobility at the elbow joint. These techniques include dry needling, STM, IASTM, cryotherapy, mobilization, and kinesiotaping. Manual therapy is essential but is only one piece of the puzzle for eliminating elbow pain.

Muscle weakness can also contribute to elbow pain. Weakness in the shoulder/rotator cuff and back muscles can lead to increased stress at the elbow joint. With continued throwing and pitching the ligaments at the elbow joint become more and more stressed and can eventually tear. A skilled physical therapist will be able to identify these specific muscles and incorporate appropriate strengthening exercises related to baseball and the throwing motion. As these muscles become stronger the risk of surgery decreases.

The throwing motion his highly complex and if not performed correctly can lead to an elbow injury requiring Tommy John surgery. A skilled physical therapist will also analyze throwing/pitching mechanics and be able to identify if a player is at risk for elbow injury based on how he or she throws. For instance players who drop their arm and lead with the elbow are at increased risk to suffer a serious elbow injury. This is just one of many faulty throwing mechanics that a baseball player with elbow pain may demonstrate. The Therapist will provide tips for throwing mechanics to prevent such injuries and to allow for safe return to throwing an pitching.

Surgery can be a career altering surgery for many baseball players and usually indicates the athlete had a damaged elbow well before a tear took place. Elbow pain with pitching and throwing is a warning sign for possible ligament damage at the elbow. If a baseball player continues to throw with pain the risk for injury becomes greater and greater. The best way to prevent further damage and eventual surgery is to see a physical therapist who can eliminate elbow pain, increase strength, and make sure the player returns to throwing safely before surgery is indicated. Elbow injuries do not only apply to baseball players but all overhead athletes such as softball, volleyball, tennis, and swimming. Bodycentral Physical Therapy has highly skilled therapists familiar with baseball and overhead athlete injuries and how to prevent them. Call 520-325-4002 for more information.