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Painful and Debilitating Ligament Injury Heals in Half the Time

New Surgical Intervention Promotes Faster Healing, Quicker Return to Competition

45 years ago, Tommy John, pitcher for the Los Angeles Dodgers, had his baseball career salvaged by a new surgical procedure to repair a torn ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) that provides critical stability for the elbow. Eventually acquiring the name Tommy John surgery, the technique involves transplanting a tendon harvested from the patient’s body to build a new ligament that functions as tissue graft while the torn UCL heals. Recovery time from the surgery is extensive, and some athletes are unable to return to competitive throwing for 12 to 18 months. But a new approach promises to cut that time by more than half, a result that is of particular advantage to young athletes in the middle of a limited duration high-school career.

Commenting on the traditional Tommy John procedure, David Linter, MD, chief of sports medicine at Houston Methodist Hospital and head team physician for the Houston Astros, said, “The downside to this approach is that the new ligament has no blood supply, and it can take the body months to rebuild the blood vessels.” Dr. Linter has begun using a new technique in which a thick suture material called UCL InternalBraceTM is anchored over the damaged ligament. The substance attracts collagen and provides a scaffold for collagen growth while providing strength to the elbow joint as the ligament heals. Dr. Linter added, “I tell my patients that we don’t yet have long-term data on the procedure's effectiveness, but that the early results are promising.” The new surgery is indicated for younger patients with high potential for healing, and those who have no other health issues beyond UCL detachment.

Read about the new surgical technique.

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