Former St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Seth Maness has taken part in an experimental surgery that is an alternative to Tommy John. This experimental surgery has the potential to shorten the recovery time for a torn Ulnar Collateral Ligament (UCL).
This story on the former St. Louis Cardinals pitcher was originally broken by Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Seth Maness is the first professional pitcher to undergo the new surgery that is called “primary repair”. This differs from the current surgery which is a replacement of the UCL.
A full recovery from Tommy John surgery for a pitcher takes at least a year, possibly longer. Maness is set to take the mound and start throwing after just over seven months of recovery time. This new surgery could stop pitchers from missing a full season if it is successful.
Tommy John surgery is the current surgery that players go through for a torn UCL. This surgery involves using a donor ligament to replace the torn ligament in the elbow. The replacement ligament often comes from the forearm, or sometimes from the hamstring. The surgery does have a very high recovery rate, and many can come back near the level they were prior to the surgery.
“Primary repair” is exactly what it would sounds like. The original ligament is still attached, the procedure just repairs it. So far the recovery time has an average recovery rate of six and a half months, without the need for more UCL later. Maness was not the first to receive the surgery, just the first professional who fit the bill.
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While this surgery could prove to be a huge step forward in UCL recovery, it is still in its early stages. In order to be eligible for “primary repair” the tear needs to be in a specific part of the elbow with the integrity of the tissue in the elbow in good shape. Tissue in the elbow that is worn out from use can be “as solid as wet toilet paper” according to Goold.
When Tommy John went under the knife for his UCL replacement surgery back in1974, he was given a ten percent chance of returning by his doctor. It took him eighteen months, but he did come back and pitched until he was 46 years old. While the surgery probably won’t be known as “Seth Maness surgery,” it is still a very similar situation with a shorter recovery time.
There is one problem here: Maness is a free agent. The St. Louis Cardinals did not tender his contract. So the professional guinea pig for this potential game-changing surgery is currently seeking a uniform. If the recovery goes as well as the numbers say, then Maness will just need to wait on an offer.
It most likely will not be with the Cardinals, as the role Maness was used for is currently occupied by Matt Bowman. As a pitcher who can come in and throw groundballs, he will find a home. Over half, 57.4 percent, of the balls hitters made contact on were ground balls in 2016. It will all depend on how he looks after his “primary repair” surgery.
If this new surgery works, pitchers everywhere will rejoice. This step forward makes a UCL seem like less of a death sentence. Obviously no one wants to hurt themselves. But if a 12 month recovery time can get cut down to a six or seven month recovery, then Maness has started something big.