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Study: MLB pitchers don't regain performance level after Tommy John surgery

DETROIT Major League Baseball players who undergo Tommy John surgery are less likely to regain the performance level they had before surgery, according to a Henry Ford Hospital study.

The study is the first to show a link between the surgery and declining pitching performance at the professional level. It also involved the largest cohort of professional pitchers to date to examine the issue.

Researchers analyzed pitching statistics of 168 MLB pitchers before and after surgery between 1982 and 2010 and found diminishing returns in three major pitching categories: Earned runs average (ERA), walks and hits per inning pitched (WHIP) and innings pitched (IP). The findings:

  • ERA increased 4.15 to 4.74.
  • WHIP increased 1.40 to 1.48.
  • IP declined 59 to 50.

"Tommy John surgery is an effective surgery and most pitchers get back to pitching after surgery. But it's not going to improve their level of performance," says Vasilios (Bill) Moutzouros, M.D., a Henry Ford orthopedic surgeon and the study's senior author.

"There's been a perception that the surgery will make you better. Our findings debunk that perception. Eighty to 90 percent of major league pitchers will get back to pitching at the major league level but they just won't be as effective as they were before injury."

The study is being presented at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons March 11-15 in New Orleans.

Tommy John surgery, named after the former Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher who underwent the pioneering surgery 40 years ago, has been since performed on legions of pitchers at the professional and collegiate levels. In medicine it is known as ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) reconstruction. During the two-hour outpatient procedure, the ulnar collateral ligament in the medial elbow is replaced with a tendon from the same arm or from the hamstring area.

Until Henry Ford's observational study,

Contact: David Olejarz
Henry Ford Health System

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Study: MLB pitchers don't regain performance level after Tommy John surgery
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