Bone and Joint Blog

UCL Injuries in Youth Athletes: Causes and Treatment

Posted Sep 17, 2020 2:32:00 PM

Thomas Edward John, Jr., better known as Tommy John, played 26 seasons of major league baseball. Today, however, his name is less synonymous with greatness on the ballfield and better recognized for the surgery that commonly bears his name. Once a revolutionary procedure, Tommy John surgery, or UCL reconstruction, is now far more commonplace than most orthopedic specialists would like, particularly in youth athletes. In fact, over half of all Tommy John patients fall in the 15 to 19 age group.

Risk Factors for UCL Injuries in Youth Athletes

Why the spike in youth UCL injuries and subsequent repairs? The major culprit comes down to volume. Youth sports have become big business, with kids playing more games than ever before. Additionally, sport specialization at a young age means that kids who are participating in a sport like baseball don’t get time away from the game for other athletic endeavors like they would have in the past. In the end, kids are simply throwing too much and with too few breaks in between. This is particularly true of pitchers.

Preventing UCL Injuries in Youth Athletes

In order to keep their child from becoming another Tommy John statistic, parents must focus on ways to reduce the likelihood of an overuse injury. As much as a child may love the sport, the smart play is to listen to expert guidance regarding the amount of time played and the number of pitches thrown. This can be achieved by:

  • Limiting the number of hours played each week by age: In general terms, a child should not spend more hours per week than their age playing or practicing any sport.
  • Utilize MLB’s Pitch Smart guidelines: This resource from Major League Baseball offers “a series of practical, age-appropriate guidelines” regarding how many pitches a child should throw, how often breaks are needed, and more.
  • Encourage breaks during off-season and multi-sport participation.
  • Never allow a child to throw while in pain or discomfort.

Tommy John Surgery for Youth Athletes

UCL reconstruction (Tommy John surgery) is typically reserved for the most severe cases where the ligament has completely torn. However, in youth patients, there are additional factors to consider like growth plates. If your child has experienced a suspected UCL injury, it is important to seek the guidance of an orthopedic surgeon who specializes in these types of injuries. Get started by requesting an appointment with a UCL specialist at the Bone and Joint Clinic of Baton Rouge today?