Colin Rea was attempting to avoid surgery to repair his torn UCL. After receiving platelet rich plasma injections and taking time off to rest his elbow, Rea felt discomfort after throwing this week.
The goal was to determine by early December if the injection therapy had worked. Obviously, it didn’t work. PRP injection therapy is still relatively new, but it has helped some pitchers avoid Tommy John surgery.
Perhaps most notably was Masahiro Tanaka in 2014. His injury occurred in July of that year, so like Rea, Tanaka likely would have recovered from surgery just in time for that following season to wrap up. So the gamble that PRP injections would work really wasn’t a gamble. The Yankees team doctor in 2014 explained the benefits of PRP therapy here.
At the time, doctors were still figuring out what the proper doses should be, an example of just how new this treatment is. Even though PRP injections worked for Tanaka, Tommy John surgery is still needed in many cases these days. Everyone and every injury is different, so perhaps there will never be a reliable alternative to surgery for repairing torn UCL’s. Or perhaps baseball can do better. A blog post for Harbor View Medical in 2015 states why baseball players “strike out“ using PRP to avoid Tommy John surgery. In summary, the points made in the blog post are that sometimes the PRP isn’t as high quality as it should be. And some doctors aren’t able to utilize the best technologies. Additionally, in some cases stem cell therapy should be used.
Angels pitcher Garrett Richards is on track to avoid surgery after sustaining a “high-grade“(I’m not doctor, but that sounds severe) tear of his ulnar collateral ligament in early May. He underwent stem cell injection therapy, as well as PRP injection. After time off, he pitched in rehab games in September and had regained velocity. He is expected to be ready, as normal, for the start of the 2017 season. So maybe stem cell therapy in conjunction with PRP therapy is the way to go. Based on what I’ve read, Rea did not receive stem cell injections.
Colin Rea felt some discomfort after throwing this week. He underwent Tommy John surgery yesterday. Hoping to be ready for start of 2018.
— Dennis Lin (@sdutdennislin) November 12, 2016
That’s not to say the Padres put Rea in incapable hands, though. Dr. James Andrews was involved in the process and ultimately performed the surgery. It’s possible Rea’s injury was just too severe and surgery was always going to be necessary. Like Dr. Andrews said in August, Tommy John surgery does not have a perfect success rate, so it was sensible to try an alternative anyway. Here’s hoping things work out for Rea, and he’s ready to go in 2018.