Posted on August 17, 2016 by Bryan Zarpentine
A week ago, San Diego Padres pitcher Colin Rea was all set to undergo Tommy John surgery after an MRI revealed a tear in his ulnar collateral ligament. However, Rea appears to have had a change of heart, as he will be passing on Tommy John surgery, at least for now, and seek alternative treatment. On Wednesday, Rea met with Dr. James Andrews, arguably the biggest expert with regard to pitcher’s elbows, and after that meeting Rea has decided to receive a platelet-rich plasma (PRP) injection in lieu of surgery.
PRP injections consist of putting a person’s blood through a centrifuge in order to create a dense mixture of plasma cells. Those plasma cells are then injected into the injured area, in this case Rea’s right elbow. The hope is that the infusion of plasma will expedite the healing process. If all goes well, Rea could be able to pick up a ball a month from now and begin a throwing program, although it’s doubtful he will be able to pitch in the big leagues this season. Of course, had he undergone the surgery, he’d be almost guaranteed to miss all of the 2017 season.
Rea’s injury caused a bit of controversy a couple weeks ago, as he was part of a seven-player trade that sent him to the Miami Marlins along with Andrew Cashner. It was in his first start with the Marlins that Rea was forced to leave after just 3.1 innings due to elbow pain. After the injury, the Padres agreed to trade back for Rea and return one of the prospects they received in the trade to the Marlins. After returning to the Padres, he appeared to be set for Tommy John surgery, but after meeting with three different doctors, including Andrews, he will instead receive PRP treatment.
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Pitchers seeking alternatives to Tommy John surgery has becoming increasingly common. Earlier this year, Los Angeles Angels pitcher Garrett Richards opted for stem-cell treatment instead of surgery and was recently cleared to pitch, opening the door for him to pitch in the Arizona Fall League and potentially arrive at spring training next season ready to pitch. Rea is hoping for similar success, although nothing is guaranteed.
The hope for Rea is that he will be able to start a throwing program a few week’s after receiving the PRP injections. If his elbow responds to the treatment, he will likely pitch in winter ball to test the health of his elbow in game action, with the hope of being ready for spring training next year. Of course, if Rea does not respond to the treatment, he may have to undergo Tommy John surgery anyway. The delay in the surgery would certainly eliminate any hope of pitching in 2017, and could even make it difficult for him to be ready for the start of the 2018 season.
Rea is certainly taking a risk by passing on Tommy John and receiving PRP treatment. However, it could mean that Rea has a chance to pitch for the entire 2017 season. More and more pitchers like Rea and looking for alternatives to Tommy John surgery, and the baseball world will be watching his recovery with great interest, hoping to learn more about the options available for elbow injuries other than going under the knife.