As other teams have been affected by the Tommy John injury, the Los Angeles Dodgers had been one of the few fortunate teams to yet lose a pitcher to the elbow injury. Chad Billingsley underwent the surgery last season and has had some delays in his recovery, but the possibility of a return this season still exists.
On Thursday, the Dodgers’ luck ran out as it became known reliever Chris Withrow has a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow and Tommy John surgery had been recommended to him by team physician Dr. Neal ElAttrache.
Withrow is said to be seeking a second opinion, but there’s a strong likelihood he will join the long list of pitchers who have undergone Tommy John surgery this season. No one has been able to provide concrete answers as to why the injury occurs or sure fire ways to prevent it, including head athletic trainer Stan Conte, who has conducted research on the injury.
While the Dodgers appear to be on the verge of losing a pitcher to the ligament surgery, Conte worries over what may lie ahead, according to Dylan Hernandez of the LA Times:
The thing that is worrisome is that when you look over 14 or 15 seasons and when they occur during the year, the month they occur the most is June,” Conte said. “We’re not in June yet. I don’t know what’s going to happen in June.”
While Conte can’t explain why the injury occurs, he does believe velocity and repetition play a role:
If people continue to throw harder, what you end up doing is you pitch beyond the ability of the ligament to hold the elbow together. You can strengthen muscles, you can increase flexibility, you can improve biomechanics, but you can’t strengthen a ligament.”
Undergoing Tommy John surgery doesn’t always result in a career coming to an end, but it does include a lengthy recovery. With answers yet to be found and an emphasis placed on hard-throwing pitchers, the epidemic appears to be a self-feeding situation with no conceivable end in sight.
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