There was a time not too long ago when countless pitching careers were cut short by strain on the elbow ligaments. That was before Dr. Frank Jobe came up with a legendary innovation in orthopedic elbow surgery – a procedure known officially as ulnar collateral ligament reconstruction, and unofficially in clubhouses across the nation as Tommy John surgery.
Deceptively simple in its execution, the procedure, which involves relocation of a forearm tendon to the elbow, has undergone precious few changes since it was first performed on – you guessed it – Tommy John, formerly of the Dodgers. The pitcher’s transformation was swift and decisive. Today the same technique is prescribed for thousands of athletes, including tennis players and javelin throwers, who undergo extreme elbow strain on a daily basis.
It’s hard to argue with this watershed in prognosis:
In 1974, Jobe estimated that John’s chance of regaining his form was 1 in 100. Current studies suggest a rate of success, generally defined as an athlete’s reaching the same plane for at least one season, of more than 80 percent.
Dr. Jobe passed away recently, but his legacy lives on in the many active people who appreciate his work every day. As a specialist in orthopedic elbow surgery here in San Diego, I am indebted to Jobe for one of the most effective tools in my arsenal.