If you watched the Super Bowl, like a large part of the world, you probably noticed Richard Sherman of the Seattle Seahawks closely guarding his left arm. It turns out that he tore his ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) in his left elbow and will require off-season surgery. Generally, this injury is thought of as a baseball injury, as the majority of research has focused on UCL reconstruction in pitchers. However, there are cases in which other athletes such as wrestlers and gymnasts will tear the ligament in a weight bearing position. Regardless of the mechanism of injury, Sherman will likely undergo the famed Tommy John surgery.
According to the British Journal of Sports Medicine, the success rate of UCL reconstruction varies between 63% and 97% depending upon the technique. However, complication rates are relatively low, at 10%. Other research has shown a return to prior level of play for pitchers to vary between 9 months and 18 months. This is largely dependent upon the point in the season that they are injured and when they elect to have the surgery relative to the next season. In Sherman’s case, if he has the surgery sometime in the next month, we can likely expect a full return in time for next season; barring any complications. The biggest rehab consideration for him will be the stability of the elbow with pushing and pulling movements, as well as tolerance to weight bearing at high loads and velocities due to the level of contact associated with playing professional football. The challenge with the typical Tommy John patient centers around the ability to resist repetitive stresses at the medial elbow during the pitching motion, but Sherman will not face similar sport specific challenges.
In summary, we can likely expect this to be just a larger pothole than usual in the typical recovery that a professional football player typically goes through in any off-season. And perhaps of greater concern to many football fans, this should not be a major deciding factor in selecting the Seattle Defense in next season’s fantasy football draft.