Imagine being a baseball pitcher dedicated year-round to your craft, just craving that certain velocity you know you are capable of if you just throw a few more pitches a day. Throwing a fastball at 90+ mph can feel like the most important thing in life in high school and college. While it is a huge accomplishment, it does not always come without a cost. The number of pitchers that undergo reconstructive surgery on overused elbows is steadily rising, and has been since the 90’s.
Tommy John surgery is the complete reconstruction of the UCL, or ulnar collateral ligament. A healthy tendon is taken from elsewhere in the patient’s body and is used to replace the ruptured UCL. The purpose is to restore stability at the elbow and regain range of motion. Many players are under the impression that it will be a quick fix and even enhance their performance when returning to the mound. Wouldn’t that outcome be nice without having to risk a full year (or more) on the disabled list?
The good news is that players, whether it be high school or the big leagues, are taking the alternative route. Because of the little to no downtime, and the fact that it carries the same benefits as going under the knife, Stem Cell therapy is making a name for itself. The goal is to repair – and eventually replace – damaged tissue.
The first professional baseball player to test the theory that stem cells can actually do the same thing as Tommy John surgery was Bartolo Colon. He had ligament damage and a torn rotator cuff that was keeping him from reaching his full potential at the time. After the treatment, Colon made his comeback in 2011 and it was a resounding success. Some of his post treatment accomplishments include being named to the all-star team twice, earning the title of the current leader of major league wins, and the number two starter for the Atlanta Braves in 2017.
Stem cells are constantly are taking the name of being the standard practice for injuries accompanied with throwing or stress on the elbow. Many players are speaking out about the procedure and encouraging those considering surgery to really think twice. Spending an entire season on the bench can be detrimental to the stats of any player, so it is clear as to why the biggest stars are searching to test out the possible benefits that accompany regenerative medicine.