Is Putting Kids Under the Knife Worth It?

Baseball players and fans call it Tommy John surgery, named after the pitcher who was the first to have the surgery 29 years ago. By any designation, it is one of the major advancements in sports medicine in the last quarter-century. Technically, it is an ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) replacement procedure. It is usually performed once a baseball player tears their ulnar collateral ligament, but recently parents have started to get this surgery done to their sons at a young age. The reason – a simple statistic that can result in either getting their son drafted or into a prestigious university. This surgery constructs a certain ligament in the wrist that isn’t found in 14% of the population called the Palmaris Longus. 

This tendon is thought to increase throwing velocity and result in a stronger throwing arm. Sounds good, right! Well, parents are getting the surgery done when there are no signs of injury. Many people at CHC do not think that this is right; in fact, in the medical community, this is considered a no-no. Josh Holland (‘22) shared his thoughts about kids younger than thirteen receiving this surgery, “I don’t think it is morally right for a parent to force their son to get this surgery. I also think we are doing something different than we used to.” Trent Jones (‘20) agrees, “To think that a kid younger than 18 is getting a major surgery done on his elbow is beyond me…” Rush Friedberg (‘22) adds, “It’s ridiculous that a parent would force their child to get this surgery. It is their job to make sure they don’t need surgery, not force them into it.”

By 2010 the number of surgeries jumped from less than 12 a year to over 40 a year. Today, 57 percent of all Tommy John surgeries are done on kids between 15 and 19 years old. I asked three different CHC students what they thought the minimum age should be for this surgery. Kyle Edwards (‘21) says, “ I don’t think kids should have the surgery younger than 16. Anything younger is not right to do.” Bryce Jones (21’) believes, “ I firmly believe that this surgery shouldn’t be done unless your growth plate has fully developed.”

There are mixed feelings about what the right age is for this surgery in the medical field. Some believe that kids younger than 15 shouldn’t have the surgery at all; some believe all should. Trent Jones believes the surgery is justified “as long as there is a tear, but if a parent wants it done with no sign of a tear, they should be refused.” 

If you receive UCL surgery then your rehabilitation process is anywhere between 9 months to a year, sometimes longer. Your elbow will be placed in a hinged brace to gradually increase the range of motion until you can fully extend it. Although it has not yet been proven, in some cases the process can take up to 2 years. It has also not been seen that the process is longer in kids. “One of my friends who got the surgery done when he was 13 had a brace on his arm for nearly two years,” said Trent Jones. Josh Holland added,” I don’t know anyone that got it at a young age, but one of my friends just finished nine months of rehab at the age of 17.” As the number of surgeries goes up in the younger aged kids, we need to figure out how do we solve this problem in our youth. 

As time goes on, the need for a solution needs to be found. As an open-minded generation, we need to be aware of this epidemic in the making. This may not be a well-known problem, but it is a growing one, and the people that know about it, know how bad it’s getting.