Newswise — High school pitcher Gavan Lomas threw a pitch and felt pain in his right arm. While still on the mound, his first thought was that his pain would lead to the one thing he feared most in his baseball career – Tommy John surgery. His fears were confirmed when he was diagnosed with a torn ulnar collateral ligament, a ligament critical for the stability of his elbow. Not willing to give up on his senior season, he decided to forego the traditional Tommy John surgery for a new technique to get him back on the mound faster.
“I was devastated when I was told I needed Tommy John surgery, because my senior year was supposed to be my best year to be seen by college scouts,” Lomas said. “Deciding to undergo this new surgery was the best decision I ever made because it gave me back my senior year and the hope that I could play collegiate baseball.”
Lomas underwent surgery in July 2017 and was cleared to begin throwing again 10 weeks later. During the first game of his senior year in February 2018, he was behind the plate and threw out three runners attempting to steal second base. In March 2018, Lomas pitched his first game since the surgery, striking out four of the eight batters he faced and hitting his first homerun of the season. He believes that the velocity of his pitches and his bat speed are higher than prior to his injury.
Traditional Tommy John surgery requires taking a tendon from somewhere else in the body to build a new ligament over the damaged UCL and serve as a tissue graft while the UCL heals, said David Lintner, M.D., chief of sports medicine at Houston Methodist Hospital and head team physician for the Houston Astros.
“The downside to this approach is that the new ligament has no blood supply, and it can take the body months to rebuild the blood vessels,” he said.
In this new surgical technique, Lintner anchors the UCL InternalBraceTM to the upper and lower arm bones over the damaged UCL instead of using a tendon from somewhere else in the body. Lintner says the UCL InternalBraceTM is like a thick suture material that can provide immediate strength to the elbow joint. He said the design of the brace attracts collagen, an essential building block of soft tissue in the body, and serves as scaffold where the collagen can grow. Instead of building a new ligament, this technique repairs and protects the patient’s own ligament while it heals allowing for faster rehabilitation.
The traditional surgical procedure was named after former Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher, Tommy John, whose career was saved by the revolutionary surgery in 1974. Patients recovering from this surgery do not pick up a baseball for at least four months, and some do not return to competitive throwing for 12 to 18 months.
Because this new surgical technique helps the native ligament heal faster, Lintner said many of his first cases were high school juniors like Lomas whose senior seasons depended on a fast recovery.
“I tell my patients that we don’t yet have long-term data on the procedure's effectiveness, but that the early results are promising,” Lintner said. “Patients are back to throwing 10 weeks after surgery, and most are back to competing within six months, which is less than half of the average recovery time for the traditional surgery.”
Lintner said good candidates for the new Tommy John surgery are those whose ligament is detached at one end but otherwise in good shape and younger patients who still have a high healing potential.
Houston Methodist serves as the official health care provider for the Houston Texans, Houston Astros, Rice Athletics, RodeoHouston and Houston Ballet. For more information about Houston Methodist, visit houstonmethodist.org. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook.