Tommy John Surgery: Physical Therapy for Return to Play

This article has been 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

Youth baseball injuries continue to increase and many of these injuries involve the ulnar collateral ligament of the elbow which often require surgery such as Tommy John surgery to repair the damaged ligament. Elbow injuries that require this surgery can be devastating for a young baseball player’s career. As these injuries in youth baseball players continue to rise, so does the frequency of Tommy John surgery and thus the need for appropriate rehabilitation. Skilled physical therapy and proper rehabilitation is necessary for the athlete to return to play and even return to the same level of competition prior to injury. Without this rehab and care the athlete is unlikely to return to the field. This is where a trained physical therapist is essential in a young overhead athlete’s playing career.

Without physical therapy following Tommy John surgery the athlete is at an increased risk of reinjuring the elbow. After surgery the repaired tissue needs time to heal and become stronger. The healing process after surgery is a long and complex process that goes through multiple phases of recovery. A skilled physical therapist understands recovery phases following Tommy John surgery and will be able to educate the athlete through each phase until the ligament has completely healed. Before any type of throwing can be performed the elbow must undergo each phase of recovery.

The athlete is still at increased risk of injuring his or her elbow even after the ligament has completely healed following Tommy John surgery. Without guidance through a throwing program the athlete is likely to re-injure the repaired ligament Physical therapy is still crucial at this stage even thought the athlete’s elbow might feel strong and non-painful. Trained physical therapists at Bodycentral Physical therapy are knowledgeable about return to play guidelines for baseball/softball players. The physical therapist will appropriately progress the athlete through a necessary throwing program that will gradually rebuild arm strength until the player is fully ready to compete at his or her sport. This phase of rehabilitation is essential to establish peak throwing performance and decrease risk of injury among each athlete.

In order to prevent re-injury of the repaired ligament, education and guidance from a skilled physical therapist is essential even after the player has returned to full participation in his or her sport. Physical therapists at Bodycentral have unique skills at analyzing the throwing and pitching motion and are trained to observe potential risk factors with throwing pitching mechanics. Baseball players may demonstrate throwing mechanics that place the elbow at increased stress and therefore increased risk for injury. Physical therapists also have knowledge on pitch counts as well as in-season and off-season arm care programs to keep the athlete’s arm healthy.

Tommy John surgery has increased over the years, especially among youth baseball players. With this increase in number of surgeries the importance of proper rehabilitation becomes even more important. Physical therapy is extremely important following Tommy John surgery in order for baseball/softball players and other overhead athletes to return to their sport at the same level prior to injury. Without physical therapy the risk for re-injury increases following Tommy John surgery. Recovery is a long process but if done correctly will allow for the player to return to competing in their desired sport pain free. Visit for more information or call 520-325-4002 to schedule an appointment.