“UCL Tear” is the scariest phrase in MLB baseball from upper management on down to the trainers. It often means the end of a pitcher’s season and at least one calendar year of recovery. For reference, the UCL (Ulnar Collateral Ligament) is a strong ligament made of three bands of connective tissue on the medial (inner) side of the elbow. It is the primary stabilizer of the elbow, meaning it essentially holds the joint together. During the pitching motion, the Ulnar Collateral Ligament stops the external rotation of the arm. This point is referred to as being “cocked back” and at this moment, the elbow experiences forces equivalent to a 60 pound weight being pressed onto the hand. The ligament then helps initiate the internal rotation of the arm to actually throw the ball. Chronic stress (i.e. many years of pitching) or acute trauma can cause various degrees of injury (see our sprain/strain article here) which very commonly results in Tommy John Surgery. This is known to medical professionals as UCL reconstruction where similar to an ACL reconstruction in the knee, a tendon is harvested from elsewhere in the body and replaces the torn ligament in the elbow. The outcomes are generally great and some pitchers report being stronger than ever following surgery/recovery. Sometimes, however, the athlete may opt for conservative treatment.
Such was the case for Padres’ relief pitcher Jon Edwards, who in spring training of last year was set to be San Diego’s 7th inning man. Edwards’ season would stop before it even started when elbow soreness set in and an MRI revealed excessive wear to his UCL. Tommy John Surgery? No sir. Edwards opted for the latest in sports medicine technology. In June of 2016 Edwards received a PRP/Stem Cell Injection into his injured ligament. In short, a Platelet Rich Plasma (PRP) injection uses your body’s own cells to “super heal” an injury. A sample of blood is spun in a centrifuge separating its parts. The parts essential to healing are injected back into the injury site, jump starting the repairing process. Click for more on PRP Injection Therapy. The addition of stem cells turbo charges the healing factor (insider tip: stem cell therapy isn’t only for elite athletes!). The healing serum had Edwards into a rehab program just a few weeks after receiving the treatment. 8 months later, Edwards has rejoined the Padres for spring training fully healed and is ready to compete for a roster spot. If he would have opted for surgery, Edwards would still be recovering into June 2017. Not only was he able to avoid going under the knife, he was able to get back to baseball four months earlier! Modern medicine is pretty cool. Stay Well.