CHICAGO, IL, March 28, 2014 — According to a study published in the current issue of the American Journal of Sports Medicine, “Tommy John” surgery to repair a torn elbow ligament is not only putting Major League Baseball Pitchers back on the mound, but also improving their game.

The study was conducted by physicians and researchers at Midwest Orthopaedics at Rush and Rush University Medical Center and showed that four out of five MLB pitchers who underwent ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) surgery of the elbow, also called “Tommy John” surgery, returned to play — and pitched as well or better than before their injury.

The research was based on data pulled from the Major League Baseball tracking system and publicly available statistics. The results were presented during the American Academy of Orthopedics (AAOS), annual meeting in New Orleans.

The UCL is located on the inside of the elbow and connects the bone of the upper arm (humerus) to a bone in the forearm (ulna). With repetitive throwing motion and overuse, the ligament stretches to the point where it tears and can no longer hold the bones tightly together. Tommy John surgery is a procedure in which a healthy tendon extracted from an arm (or sometimes a leg) is used to replace the torn UCL. The surgery is named after the first ball player to undergo UCL repair surgery in 1974, Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Tommy John.

Once considered a career-ending injury for ball players, the study showed that is no longer the case, and in fact, the players who underwent the surgery reportedly won more than those who didn’t have surgery.

“College or Professional pitchers and catchers are more at risk of an UCL injury from because the repetitive motion puts high stress on the ligament,” says study author Charles Bush-Joseph, M.D., MOR sports medicine physician and head team physician for the Chicago White Sox. “We are really pleased with the study results, which demonstrates the high percentage of athletes who return to play after Tommy John surgery.”

The researchers evaluated the performance and records of 179 MLB pitchers between 1986 and 2012 who underwent Tommy John surgery. They compared that group to pitchers who never underwent the surgery.

The research showed:

  • About 83 percent of the Major League pitchers successfully returned to play.
  • Overall, 97 percent returned to play in the major or the minor leagues combined.
  • Only five pitchers receiving Tommy John surgery never played again.
  • The average career length post-surgery was approximately three years.
  • Pitchers who had the surgery experienced a lower losing percentage, threw fewer walks and gave up fewer hits, runs and home runs.

Midwest Orthopaedics at Rush researchers involved in this study include: Brandon J. Erickson, M.D.,resident; Anil K. Gupta, M.D., MBA, fellow; Joshua D. Harris, M.D., fellow; Charles Bush-Joseph, M.D.; Bernard R. Bach, M.D.; Geoffrey D. Abrams, M.D., fellow; Angielyn M. San Juan, BS, student; Brian J. Cole, M.D., MBA and Anthony A. Romeo, M.D.

About Midwest Orthopaedics at Rush

Midwest Orthopaedics at Rush offers comprehensive, unparalleled, orthopedic services.   The physicians at MOR treat thousands of orthopedic patients each year with problems ranging from the most common to the most complex. MOR’s reputation as a leader in specialized orthopedic patient care, education and research has been recognized by several national journals. U.S. News & World Report ranks the orthopedic program at Rush University Medical Center among the top ten programs in the nation. MOR has offices at: Rush University Medical Center; Prairie Medical Center, Westchester; Central DuPage Hospital, Winfield; Rush Oak Park Hospital and is affiliated with Elmhurst Memorial Hospital. For more information, log on to or call 877 MD BONES.