As mentioned in this article, Kristin Tattar has announced that she had surgery on her elbow injury she has dealt with for most of the 2022 DGPT season. With my years of experience in sports medicine and rehab, I wanted to give my thoughts on what the possible surgery is and what is the probable timeline for her return. I am neither in contact with Kristin Tattar nor her healthcare providers. This is pure speculation using the best available information out there and drawing on my years of experience.
What We Know About Kristin Tattar and Her Elbow
Here are a few things we know about Kristin Tattar: she uses her sidearm frequently and she was able to play through the injury. We can easily rule out an Ulna Collateral Ligament (UCL) injury. If she had a UCL injury she would have had a longer period of recovery during the season. She also mentioned a few times during interviews that she can play through her elbow injury, and it would not get any worse. If it were a UCL injury, the more throws, specifically forehand, would have made the injury far worse and potentially ended her career. UCL injuries are more commonly known by the famous surgery the Tommy Jonh. This is where the ligament is surgically fixed.
We can also rule out forearm flexor and extensor tendonitis; more commonly known as Golfer’s/Little League Elbow and Tennis Elbow, respectively. I had not witnessed Tattar wearing a forearm strap during her rounds. She could have played through the injury, though this also would have made the injury worse as the season progressed.
Given the information that is publicly available about Tattar’s injury, and the information about common injuries in baseball pitchers, we can theorize the injury is ulnar neuritis. The ulnar nerve runs along the inside of your elbow. That zing you feel into your pinky and ring fingers when you hit your funny bone is an ulnar nerve irritation. Neuritis sounds like a terrible injury, but its medical speak for inflammation around a nerve. This is an injury that athletes can play through without making it significantly worse. Though playing through it will not improve the injury either.
The injury can successfully be treated without surgery through simple nerve glide exercises. One exercise you can easily do at home and probably have as a child. If you ever made glasses on your face with your middle, ring, and pinky fingers along your cheek, you have successfully completed a nerve glide. There are many more nerve glides that practitioners use to help people with this and other nerve injuries. Tattar also mentioned in a few interviews that if she played every day, the pain was less than if she took time off. This lends more credence to the ulnar neuritis theory. If the nerve is not moved as much the body will try to fasten it down to the surrounding tissues. This is called an adhesion and when they happen to nerves, it can be very painful to break. Playing every day makes sense.
How Can This Injury Occur?
So, how can an injury like this occur? Ulnar neuritis is caused by repetitive motions that consistently apply pressure on the ulnar nerve at either the elbow or the wrist. In the case of Kristin Tattar, that pressure would be on the elbow joint; from her forehand shots. This pressure would cause the nerve tissue to become inflamed and rub along the ulnar groove, a small boney arch that helps guide and protect the nerve.
What’s the Surgery Like?
What’s surgery like? There are two possible surgical techniques. The first is called the ulnar nerve anterior transposition. The technique involves moving the ulnar nerve out of the ulnar groove. The other is the medial epicondylectomy. In this surgery, the surgeon takes a small piece of bone out of the inside of the elbow allowing more room for the nerve to move. Those are incredibly simplified descriptions of the surgeries.
Which will Tattar get? It is hard to say. Some of it is based on what the surgeon prefers to do. Part of it is based on what is wrong and where the nerve is injured. All these decisions are made by people with far more education and experience.
Recovery Timeline for Kristin Tattar
Recovery from the ulnar nerve anterior transposition and medial epicondylectomy surgeries are about three to four months. Given the stresses of throwing a forehand, I would expect the recovery time to be closer to the four-month mark. Four months would be March 17th, the day that the Open at Austin begins. A reasonable goal that I would set if she were my patient would be the Champions Cup starting on April 20th. This would give ample time to recover. Every surgeon has their own protocol and timeline. My timeline is based on a few different surgeons I work with; some being more aggressive with the timeline than others.
This all hinges on patient compliance and no setbacks. A patient can follow the rehab protocol perfectly and still have setbacks. I do not anticipate Kristin Tattar to be non-compliant considering this recovery directly impacts her livelihood. I hope Kristin Tattar has a speedy recovery. Her absence leaves a huge gap at the top of the FPO field until she returns. Hopefully she beats the estimates and makes a speedy recovery!