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Tommy John surgery impacts SSU athletes

By Kyler Johnson
On October 1, 2013

Tommy John surgery has become one of the most popular surgeries in baseball today. Due to the unnatural overhand throwing motion in baseball, many pitchers come across elbow issues throughout their career. 

Tommy John surgery has given them a way of trying to bounce back. The exact surgery consists of replacing the ulnar collateral ligament in the elbow with a tendon from somewhere else in the body, most often the forearm.

According to CBS Sports, a third of Major League Baseball pitchers today have undergone Tommy John surgery. This year, 124 of the 360 pitchers who started the Major League season had the operation done. 

At the time when the surgery was first performed in 1974 on Tommy John, the odds of the surgery being successful were one in 100. Nowadays the surgery has a success rate of 85-92 percent, and it is seen as a routine tool for pitchers. 

Many pitchers, including Tommy John, John Smoltz, Kerry Wood and most recently Brian Wilson, have gone on to have successful baseball careers post-surgery.  

"There is one pitcher who came to Sonoma State and pitched for us in the 2008 College World Series," said Assistant Baseball Coach Mike Nackord. "Matt Means was a starter for us, and he had Tommy John surgery prior to coming to SSU."

Nackord was a pitcher for the Sonoma State team from 1997 to 2001. While he was playing he suffered many shoulder injuries, but luckily did not have to get Tommy John surgery. 

But he did mention that one of his fellow teammates, Jesse Bussard, had to go through the procedure at one point in his career. The examples of Means and Bussard, it shows how the Tommy John surgery is not only relevant to professionals, but also at the college level.

"Tommy John Surgery, or Ulnar Collateral Ligament reconstruction, impacts student-athletes more than it would any professional athlete," said Bill Fusco, senior director of intercollegiate athletics at SSU

"There is a long recovery period which can alter the number of years a student athlete can compete. Sonoma State Athletics has had approximately 10 UCL surgeries since 2006, with the majority involving women's Water Polo and Baseball student athletes."

Fusco also said that the NCAA does provide a medical waiver process that allows student athletes who miss up to one year with an injury to be able to still compete for four  years.  

"The advancement in sports medicine increases the chances of pitchers coming back stronger," said Nackord

The once doubted surgery is now a way for players to revamp their careers, and to come back even stronger. Both Nackord and Fusco discussed how Sonoma State Athletics, specifically the baseball coaching staff and trainers, implement rehab programs to help their players come back stronger, and also to try and prevent serious injuries from happening. 

Although Tommy John surgery occurs most often at the professional level, it definitely still has an impact on college athletes. With Tommy John surgery and other advancements in medicine, players are now able to continue their careers, and in some cases come back even stronger. 


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