Background: The rate of ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) reconstruction has been increasing at all levels of play. With excellent outcomes, primary UCL reconstruction has allowed many overhead athletes to return to their pre-injury sport. However, the subjective factors influencing this decision to return to sport have yet to be studied. The aim of this study is to understand the factors influencing an athlete's decision to return to pre-injury level of sport after primary UCL reconstruction. Methods: An experienced interviewer conducted qualitative, semi-structured interviews of patients aged 18–35 years who had undergone primary UCL reconstruction by one fellowship-trained, Major League Baseball (MLB) team orthopaedic surgeon. All subjects were throwing athletes prior to injury and had a minimum two-year follow-up without revisions. Qualitative analysis was then performed to derive codes, categories, and themes. Patients were surveyed to assess familiarity with UCL reconstruction as well as to obtain Kerlan-Jobe Orthopaedic Clinic (KJOC) Overhead Athlete Shoulder and Elbow score, American Shoulder and Elbow Surgeons Shoulder (ASES) score, and Western Ontario and McMaster Universities Osteoarthritis Index (WOMAC) highlighting current activity and function levels along with sport participation. Results: Twenty-two athletes were interviewed to elucidate four predominant themes influencing their return to sport: trust in surgeon and care team, innate drive and optimism, misconceptions regarding post-operative athletic ability, and life priorities. A significant difference was noted between patients that returned and those that did not in the KJOC survey and for the statement that UCL reconstruction surgery would improve throwing ability relative to patients’ peak performance three years prior to the surgery. Athletes who did not return to sport cited lifestyle changes and age as limiting factors. Conclusion: Patients' decision to return to their pre-injury level of sport after primary UCL reconstruction was based on trust in their care team's reputation, intrinsic personality traits, anecdotal evidence about post-operative outcomes, and lifestyle. This study emphasizes the importance for health care providers to educate patients toward realistic expectations upon return to sport. On a larger scale, this study illustrates the effects the media and anecdotal experiences of a growing population of players undergoing UCL reconstruction have had on the game of baseball and players' decisions to return to sport. Level of evidence: Level IV.
- Qualitative interviews
- Return to sport
- UCL reconstruction
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Orthopedics and Sports Medicine