Surgeons typically replace the damaged ligament with ligament from another part of the arm or the leg, Cain said.
In the new study, released Saturday at the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine annual meeting, in Orlando, Fla., researchers looked at athletes treated by Andrews between 1988 and 2006. The study, said to be the largest of its kind, focused on 743 patients who were followed for at least two years after their surgeries; almost all were baseball players. Eighty-three percent were able to return to the same level of play or higher.
The researchers also found that surgeries on athletes 18 and younger are becoming more common. They made up 12 of 97 patients before 1997, according to Cain. But high school students made up 62 of 188 operations in 2005.
"There's no question that this comes from specialization in single sports" in recent years, Cain said. "Even 10 to 15 years ago, it was uncommon for a young athlete to pick one sport at a young age and focus on that sport."
Gotlin said the study is useful, but he cautioned that "in the best of all worlds, we're talking about a 75 to 80 percent success rate."
What to do? "We should encourage young kids and athletes to cross train," Cain said. "There's no good reason for an 8-year-old child to play baseball year-round and specialize in baseball."
For more about UCL injuries, try the American Sports Medicine Institute.
SOURCES: E. Lyle Cain, M.D., fellowship director, American Sports Medicine Institute, Andrews Sports Medicine & Orthopaedic Center, Birmingham, Ala.; Robert Gotlin, D.O., director, Sports Rehabilitation, Beth Israel Medical Center, New York City; July 12, 2008, American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine annual meeting, Orlando, Fla.
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