What is the Tommy John Surgery Recovery Timeline? Can Stem Cells Help?

By Chris Centeno, MD /

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tommy john surgery recovery timeline

Tommy John surgery is often used to repair tears in the ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) in pitchers. The problem is that the Tommy John surgery recovery timeline is substantial. Weeks to months spent in a splint and then months more of rehab and a whole season lost. Is there a better way? We’ve successfully treated UCL tears using either SCP (our enhanced version of platelet rich plasma) or same day stem cells (for bigger tears). These newer therapies have a much faster recovery timeline than surgery. I’ve also blogged on why we think the major league pitchers who have tried PRP on their UCL injuries are striking out: bad quality PRP or platelets being used when the injury is big enough to warrant stem cells. In addition, few physicians take the time to actively look at the elbow under ultrasound and stress it to find all of the tear areas. Many of these pitchers also start out getting steroid shots into the elbow, which causes the problem to worsen and the local stem cells that could help in the repair to go on strike. Finally, few physicians also take the time to figure out why the pitcher’s elbow became a problem in the first place, despite research showing that it’s often related to problems with shoulder range of motion. 

Recently we had an elite level pitcher visit one of our Regenexx Network providers. His father sent me this nice e-mail about his son’s experience that I wanted to share:

“Dear Regenexx:

I wanted to say a few words to compliment your services.

My son recently developed some elbow problems.  Two ortho surgeons and 1 radiologist all described his problem of having a full tear in his UCL.  Your physician did an ultrasound examination vs. the traditional MRI and found much hope of repairing the injury without surgery.  He was the only doctor that took the time to better define what a “full tear” actually means – and it is not what we would all think by hearing the word “full”.  My son recently received a PRP and Stem cell treatment.  He was very gentle in his approach and has a great bedside manner.  The staff was very accommodative and willing to work around our family schedule.  The Regenexx doctor did not rush us in or out of any appointment and was always willing to communicate with us.  He was even happy to answer all of my emails.  His communication was helpful and re-assuring.  He has given my son a lot of hope to fully recover from his injury by using his methods versus the initial treatment plan of surgery.  Time will tell.

 I would easily recommend Regenexx to other patients.

 Sincerely,

 Paul S.”

The upshot? We believe there are better ways than surgery to help pitchers with UCL injuries. I’ll report back at some point on Paul’s son…

Chris Centeno, MD

Regenexx Founder

Chris Centeno, MD is a specialist in regenerative medicine and the new field of Interventional Orthopedics. Centeno pioneered orthopedic stem cell procedures in 2005 and is responsible for a large amount of the published research on stem cell use for orthopedic applications.
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Regenerative procedures are commonly used to treat musculoskelatal trauma, overuse injuries, and degenerative issues, including failed surgeries.
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