Tommy John Surgery

Tommy John surgery, or ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) reconstruction, is a surgical procedure in which a torn ligament in the elbow is replaced with a tendon from elsewhere in the body (often from the forearm, hamstring, knee, or foot). The procedure is common among collegiate and professional athletes in several sports, most notably baseball.

In the elbow, the ulnar (collateral and the lateral collateral ligaements connect the humerus to the ulna and keep it tightly in place as it slides through the groove at the end of the humerus. These ligaments are the main source of stability for the elbow. They can be torn when there is an injury or dislocation of the elbow. If they do not heal correctly the elbow can be too loose or unstable. The ulnar collateral ligament can also be damaged by overuse and repetitive stress, such as the throwing motion.

Diagnostic procedures may include the following:


  • pain in the elbow during and after throwing activities.
  • numbness and tingling in the hand due to stretching of the ulnar nerve at the elbow.
  • a popping sound heard when making a pitch


The surgery is named after Tommy John, a pitcher for the Los Angeles Dodgers who was the first professional athlete to successfully undergo the operation in 1974.

Using the athletes own tissue (autograft), a ligament is reconstructed and woven in a figure-eight pattern through tunnels that have been drilled in the ulna and humerus bones Many times during reconstruction, the ulnar nerve will need to be moved in an effort to keep it from being irritated during throwing.  This tissue is then secured in the bone with either screws or sutures depending on the surgical method employed.

After Surgery/Recovery

Physical Therapy is a critical part of complete recovery. Our doctors recommend DMC's Rehabilitation Institute of Michigan, with 30 convenient locations across southeastern Michigan. To find one near you, click here.

Non-Operative Sports Medicine Specialists 
Britta Anderson, DO (Offices in Warren, Detroit, Plymouth & Farmington Hills)
Tariq Awan, DO (Offices in Detroit, Warren, Farmington Hills & Dearborn)
Sadiq Haque, DO (Offices in Detroit, Novi, Warren, Farmington Hills & Dearborn)

Expert Elbow Orthopadic Surgeons
Stephen Lemos, M.D. Ph.D. (Offices in Warren, Farmington Hills & Dearborn)
Henry Goitz, M.D. (Office in Warren)

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