Avoid a UCL Injury and the Dreaded Tommy John Surgery

April 28, 2012 | Al King

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San Fransisco Giants closer Brian Wilson had his second Tommy John surgery last week, and he'll be out of commission until at least halfway through next season. Pitchers often hear about the devastating ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) injury and the difficult surgery that follows, but many are unaware of the steps they should be taking to avoid this season-ending injury.

Minimize your risk for a UCL injury and subsequent Tommy John surgery through:

Proper Warm-Up

Your coach may preach proper warm-up at every practice, but it's worth repeating: a solid stretching and warm-up session drastically reduces the risk of injury, especially if you're a pitcher. Young pitchers run a higher risk of straining their ligaments since they typically try to compete at a level higher than their body's maturity. Proper stretching minimizes that risk. Take your time, especially on your shoulders, forearms and wrists.

Check out two dynamic baseball warm-ups--from the University of Georgia baseball team and MVP pitcher Justin Verlander.

Proper Form

The pitching motion already puts incredible strain on the elbow and shoulder. Don't compound the damage with improper form. Pay close attention to the tweaks your coach makes to your delivery, and never sacrifice form on the mound. Learn more about pitching form and posture from Cy Young Winner Tim Lincecum.

Pitch Count

Most experts recommend monitoring pitch count for pitchers as young as eight to 10 years old. Although it may seem silly to come out of a game before your arm gets tired, stopping after a preset number of pitches will help your body heal properly between outings. Former Chicago Cubs pitching pro Steven Ellis has an excellent sample pitch count chart for various age groups on his website.

If you're currently healthy, follow these simple tips to reduce your chance of a season-ending UCL injury. If you have suffered a UCL injury and you're recovering from Tommy John surgery, don't despair; today's pitchers often thrive after the surgery. For evidence, look no further than Philip Humber, the Chicago White Sox hurler who recently threw a perfect game. Humber underwent Tommy John surgery before his career even began.

Photo: Getty Images

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