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Does Prehabilitation Before Surgery Affect Return to Sport in Baseball Pitchers With Partial Ulnar Collateral Ligament Tears?

BACKGROUND: Purposeful rehabilitation before surgery (prehabilitation) has been researched and implemented in the treatment of anterior cruciate ligament tears. However, it is unclear whether prehabilitation would affect outcomes for baseball pitchers with partial ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) tears.

PURPOSE/HYPOTHESIS: The purpose of this study was to determine whether baseball pitchers with partial UCL tears who completed ≥4 weeks of prehabilitation (prehab group) have different return to play (RTP) outcomes than pitchers with 0 to 3 weeks of preoperative physical therapy (no prehab group). We hypothesized that pitchers in the prehab group would have similar RTP rates compared with pitchers in the no prehab group.

STUDY DESIGN: Cohort study; Level of evidence, 3.

METHODS: Baseball pitchers of all competitive levels who underwent primary UCL reconstruction (UCLR) or UCL repair between 2010 and 2019 were included. Physician chart notes, magnetic resonance images, and operative notes were screened to confirm primary UCLR or UCL repair of a partial UCL tear and to identify whether the nonoperative treatment had been attempted. Patients were contacted via RedCap for postoperative complications, reoperations, RTP, and patient-reported outcomes (Kerlan-Jobe Orthopaedic Clinic score, Andrews-Timmerman score, Conway-Jobe score, and satisfaction).

RESULTS: Overall, 105 baseball pitchers (n = 55 prehab group; n = 50 no prehab group) were included and evaluated at 3.4 ± 2.5 years postoperatively. Six pitchers underwent UCL repair, and 99 pitchers underwent UCLR. All demographic characteristics were similar between groups except the prehab group received a gracilis graft more frequently (76.5% vs 51.2%; P = .038). The RTP rate (prehab [88.1%] vs no prehab [93.8%]; P = .465) was similar between groups. All other postoperative outcomes were also similar between groups, including revision rates and patient-reported outcomes.

CONCLUSION: Postoperative and patient-reported outcomes did not differ significantly between pitchers with partial UCL tears who performed rehabilitation before UCL surgery and pitchers who did not attempt a significant period of rehabilitation before UCL surgery. Clinicians should feel comfortable recommending rehabilitation for patients with partial UCL tears who wish to attempt a period of nonoperative treatment, as postoperative outcomes are not affected if UCL surgery is later needed.

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