Tommy John surgery

For someone like me who's not all that familiar with baseball, I was curious today when I heard that Toronto Blue Jays' pitcher Shaun Marcum will be out for the rest of the season and will require Tommy John surgery.

While I've heard it mentioned before, I wondered about it a little more today -- just what exactly is "Tommy John" surgery? (For those of you who are avid baseball fans, you may wish to skip this item.)

Marcum was devastated to learn he will be out of commission for about 18 months as a result of his injury. He's torn a key ligament in his elbow, something that occurs unfortunately with some regularity to baseball pitchers. In years gone by, a tear to the ulnar collateral ligament would have ended a player's career. Now, pitchers like Marcum have a chance to return to action through the Tommy John.

Named after the first athlete to undergo the surgery in 1974 (John was a pitcher with the Los Angeles Dodgers), the procedure involves the replacement of the damaged ligament with a tendon from elsewhere in the body (most often from the forearm, hamstring, knee or foot). In this regard, it's not unlike the surgery used to repair that other dreaded season-ending athletic injury: a knee ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) tear.

While recovery is long, pitchers who are diligent with their physiotherapy often return to throw again in the big leagues, and even come back with more power in their throwing arm.

For an illustrated slide show on how Tommy John surgery works, see this. (It's a Flash presentation; click on the arrows after each page loads.)

More info:

MLB: "Marcum needs Tommy John surgery."

Official site of Tommy John: his biography page

The photo of a game at sunset is courtesy of Joshua Davis, via the stock.xchng. His blog is here.
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