Injury to the ulnar collateral ligament of the elbow is relatively common among baseball pitchers. Ulnar collateral ligament reconstruction (UCLR) has revolutionized the management of this injury, allowing a greater proportion of pitchers to return to play.
To assess the return to play and in-game performance specific to baseball pitchers who have undergone primary UCLR.
This review was conducted according to the PRISMA guidelines (Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses). The electronic databases MEDLINE, EMBASE, and PubMed were searched for relevant studies, and pertinent data were abstracted. Only studies reporting in-game performance statistics (earned run average [ERA], pitching velocity, innings pitched per season, etc) of pitchers after UCLR were included. The methodological index for nonrandomized studies (MINORS) was used to assess study quality.
A total of 14 studies and 1520 pitchers were included in this systematic review. All studies were of level 3 or 4 evidence, and the mean ± SD MINORS score was 14.4 ± 3.0, which indicates fair quality of evidence for nonrandomized studies. The rates of return to any level of pitching after UCLR ranged from 79% to 100%. Subgroup analysis revealed that 79% to 87% of Major League Baseball (MLB) pitchers returned to preinjury levels of pitching. The mean time to return to play was 19.8 ± 13.5 months, and the mean time to return to competition for MLB pitchers was 17.3 ± 2.4 months. Of the 5 studies reporting ERA, 2 cited a significant increase after UCLR, and 1 indicated a significant decrease. Of the 4 studies reporting fastball velocity, 3 cited decreased pitching velocities after UCLR. All studies found that pitchers pitched, on average, fewer innings per game or season after UCLR.
There was a high rate of return to pitching after UCLR. However, most studies showed that UCLR was associated with a prolonged recovery and significant decline in pitching performance as objectively measured by in-game statistics. The strength of these conclusions is limited by the quality of the available literature and inconsistencies in the reporting of outcomes.