Elbow Injuries, Orioles Magic and Weekend Warriors

On August 15, 28 year-old Orioles pitcher Miguel Gonzalez led the Orioles to a 6-3 victory over the Boston Red Sox. A win over the Red Sox is a great way to start any story, but the real headliner of this tale is the young, struggling Minor League pitcher who, due to extensive elbow injuries and elbow reconstruction, had limited hopes of making it to the Major Leagues.  Gonzalez, who had played well in the Minors, missed the entire 2009 system after undergoing Tommy John surgery (ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) reconstruction) to repair his pitching elbow. Gonzalez’ career might have ended with his injury, but improved surgical techniques and a bid by the Orioles gave him a chance at the Show.

Elbow injuries, as well as other joint, tendon and bone injuries are not just a common part of the professional athlete’s career; they are quickly becoming a common occurrence in the rest of the population, as well.  Baby boomers, weekend warriors and aging amateur athletes have contributed to a significant increase in orthopedic injuries. According to the CDC National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey, in 2009, there were an estimated 49 million visits to non-federally employed, office-based physicians specializing in orthopedic surgery in the United States.  These gym or sports injuries have become the number two reason for doctors’ office visits.

Fortunately, the Tommy John surgeries, and other technically advanced elbow procedures once reserved for elite athletes, are now available in our own operating rooms. Unlike Gonzalez, we may have given up on making it to the Show, but these new techniques can help us return to the daily grind or help us get our serve back into shape.

To learn more,  join us on September 12, when Kurram Pervaiz, M.D., an orthopedic surgeon with specialized upper extremity and elbow fellowship training, will present a free lecture at the Howard County General Hospital, Johns Hopkins Medicine Wellness Center. The discussion will focus on the injuries and diseases that affect this critical joint and the advanced surgical treatments that are now available.

Gonzalez continues to pitch well. “It means a lot to me,” Gonzalez said, “For them (the Orioles) to give me the opportunity to pitch, to start, and just do what I had to do.”   Last Friday, August 31, Gonazlez lead the Orioles to another win– this time against the New York Yankees- where he pitched seven scoreless innings and recorded a career high nine strikeouts.  If beating the Red Sox is a great story opener, beating the Yankees is most certainly the happy-ever-after ending!

Mary Catherine Cochran works as a Senior Communications Project Manager at Howard County General Hospital: Johns Hopkins Medicine where, among other things, she manages and writes for the Well & Wise blog.