275 Madison E 40th St.

Contact: 212-986-3888

275 Madison E 40th St.

Contact: 212-986-3888

In life there aren’t too many sure bets, but for thousands of New York Yankees fans, just having Mariano Rivera on the pitcher’s mound at the end of a game is about as reliable an indicator of victory as anyone could want. Often considered the greatest closer of all time, Mariano has won four World Series titles with the Yankees and is Major League Baseball’s all-time postseason leader in saves. Able to throw with pinpoint accuracy at speeds up to 97 miles per hour, Mariano seems a lock to be elected into Baseball’s Hall of Fame.

But in 1992, if it wasn’t for Tommy John surgery, Mariano Rivera might never have even made it to the major leagues.

In 1974, Tommy John was a successful left-handed pitcher for the Los Angeles Dodgers. But in mid-season of that year he permanently damaged the ulnar collateral ligament in his pitching arm. While it seemed unlikely he would ever pitch again, a revolutionary surgical operation performed by Dr. Frank Jobe, replaced the ligament in the elbow of his pitching arm with a tendon from his right forearm. He spent the entire 1975 season in recovery and returned to the Dodgers in 1976, winning 164 games after his surgery—one fewer game than all-time Dodger great Sandy Koufax won in his entire career.

This operation, now known as Tommy John surgery , in which a ligament in the medial elbow is replaced with a tendon from elsewhere in the body (often from the forearm, hamstring, knee, or foot of the patient), has salvaged or extended the careers of hundreds of baseball players – including the Yankees’ Mariano Rivera.

The strain of pitching can cause serious elbo w problems . “The ulnar collateral ligament can become stretched, frayed, or torn through the stress of the pitching motion,” says Dr. Brian Kessle r of our pain management facility. “Overuse or repeated pressure on the elbow joint can cause small tears to form in the soft tissue, particularly where the tendons anchor to bone. If a number of these tears occur over a period of time, they can cause discomfort and reduced movement of the elbow joint.”

Today, elbow injuries are on the rise as one of the most frequent sports injuries for youngsters, and elbow surgery is rising rapidly among teen pitchers. Kids are throwing harder and harder at younger ages and are working earlier to master complicated pitches like sliders, curveballs and other breaking balls – advanced pitches that put unnatural strain on young, undeveloped arms.

To combat this trend, coaches, parents and even Little League Baseball, Inc., a sanctioning body for many youth baseball leagues, recommend limiting the number of pitches thrown by young pitchers, staying away from curveballs and other breaking pitches, and instructing players on the best techniques to prevent arm injuries.

“Repetition and torque,” says Dr. Kessler. “Those are the critical elements leading to elbow problems, especially for athletes.”

For Mariano Rivera, like Tommy John, surgery was the answer for turning elbow pain into peak athletic performance. Without it, Yankee fans might never have had the opportunity to watch a sure thing — the greatest closer of all-time.

Labels: Elbow Problems , Sport Injury , Surgery

Posted by Spine and Sports Medicine on 7:20 AM

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