Let’s be clear. Having Tommy John surgery before, during or after an ulnar collateral ligament tear will not turn you into the next Justin Verlander. You will not wake up from the procedure with a major league fastball and become a lock for Rookie of the Year. There are always risks with surgery, and the success rate is not 100 percent. Implanting a foreign fiber that is stronger than a human ligament will not help. The demands of throwing are such that although the artificial ligament might not tear, the bones could shear off and detach the ligament anyway. So let’s move away from the idea of having Tommy John surgery to improve performance and longevity. That’s crazy!
However, it is possible to prevent an ulnar collateral ligament tear and subsequent Tommy John surgery. It’s not breaking news that pitching is the most violent action in sports. It occurs at thousands of degrees per second and affects one of the flimsiest joints in the body. The motion generates huge amounts of torque at the elbow, especially during the late cocking phase and at release. So, you do what you can to limit wear-and-tear on your body.
Velocity Isn’t Everything
Former Major Leaguer Dirk Hayhurst, via Sports on Earth, said, “The problem is, velocity is enough to get you drafted. Just like a flame-throwing arm can get away with more mistakes, a scout, knowing what velocity can translate into, will take more risks on power arms than on lower velocity, less impressive, potentially more resilient pitchers.”
The reality is, successful pitchers don’t just throw hard. Mark Buerhle has won at least 10 games every year since 2001. In each season, he started more than 30 games and pitched over 200 innings. He doesn’t touch 90 mph.
It is a fact that the higher the velocity, the heavier the stress on the shoulder and elbow.
Don’t Throw Breaking Balls Too Early
When you should begin throwing a breaking ball depends on your physical maturity and, more important, your ability to manage and maintain your mechanics through the course of a game. This is difficult to evaluate on your own, so consult with a qualified pitching coach who is able to analyze your technique and mechanics. It helps if you’ve started training and have developed a consistent base of strength.
Limit Your Total Pitch Count
Every arm has a certain number of throws before something will fail. Don’t waste throws early. Most leagues have regulations regarding how much a player can pitch. However, this doesn’t prevent pitchers from playing on multiple teams. To make matters worse, baseball is often played throughout the entire year. So, stick to one team and give yourself an off-season to allow your arm to recover. And don’t max out early in the season or with every outing. If you are fatigued, focus more on your mechanics. Have someone track your pitch counts.
Throw Something Other Than a Baseball
To warm up, throw something other than a baseball (such as a football) to reduce stress on your elbow and shoulder. Even though throwing a football is different mechanically, you must pronate to throw a spiral. Pronation has been found to protect the UCL.