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How can pitchers avoid 'spike' in Tommy John surgeries when baseball returns?

Jason Mackey, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on

Published in Baseball

Ron Wolforth has written five books on pitching, while his Texas Baseball Ranch has gained notoriety for blending technology with a non-traditional approach to increase pitchers' velocity and performance. Since 2003, 64 Wolforth clients have been drafted.

Dr. Chris Ahmad is an orthopedic surgeon at the New York-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center. He teaches at Columbia University, serves as the head team physician for the Yankees and has been performing Tommy John surgery for more than 20 years.

Together, they share the same concern.

With baseball expected to ramp back up soon, and for over-exuberant, no-longer-quarantined pitchers to try and achieve top speed as quickly as possible, there will likely be an increased risk of arm injuries, specifically ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) issues that ultimately result in Tommy John surgery.

"The coronavirus pandemic may very well indirectly cause a spike in Tommy John surgery because of intense enthusiasm, lack of ideal conditioning, poor mechanics, faster-than-usual ramp up and avoidance of symptom communication," Ahmad wrote on Medium earlier this month. "Everyone who is involved in baseball and is willing to recognize this threat can improve these modifiable risks and help their players avoid Tommy John surgery."

How major league pitchers, who are routinely among the most well-compensated players on the field, can avoid serious arm injuries could literally be a million-dollar question, one Wolforth and others have spent a lifetime preparing to answer.

 

The process of ramping back up safely is one that includes several layers, starting with how pitchers are training now, extending through what will become spring training 2.0 and ultimately the 2020 season.

In some cases, it might not be a huge thing. Like if a pitcher had access to a workout facility with a catcher and was able to occasionally throw to live hitters, great. But others haven't been so lucky.

How that plays out should be fascinating, said Dr. Rand McClain, who runs his own sports medicine practice (Regenerative & Sports Medicine) in Santa Monica, Calif.

"It may end up teaching us something good or bad," McClain said. "We've been channeled into this idea that the only place to work out is on the field or in the gym, in groups.

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