1992: M.S.S. Sports Medicine

Lanning Tucker, who was promoted this season to assistant athletic trainer and rehabilitation coordinator for the Minnesota Twins, has rehabbed nearly two dozen pitchers from the elbow ligament reconstruction surgery in his 21-year career with the baseball team.

The 47-year-old Tucker, who earned his master’s in Sports Medicine in 1992 from the United States Sports Academy, says teamwork between the player, his doctors, the coaches and athletic trainer is paramount to return to form from the so-called Tommy John surgery.

While he works with athletes, Tucker says he enjoys rehabbing regular folks just as much.

“It is even more gratifying, however, to work with a patient in the clinical setting who is able to get back to work after an injury has kept them from doing what they need to do for their family,” he says.

After earning his master’s at the Academy, Tucker spent time training at several Twins minor league organizations for six years, including Elizabethton Twins, Ft. Myers Miracle and New Britain Rock Cats. Tucker has been the head minor league trainer and rehab coordinator for the Twins since 1999, coordinating rehab programs for all minor league players in the organization.

Tucker took a minute away from the evaluation, treatment and rehabilitation of injuries to talk to the Alumni Network about Tommy John rehab, baseball’s 162-game schedule and his advice to future athletic trainers.

Alumni Network: It seems that the elbow ligament reconstruction surgery pitchers undergo is the hardest baseball injury to come back from. Is that true? How does it compare to other major injuries you’ve treated and worked on during your 21 seasons with the Minnesota Twins?

Lanning Tucker: Rehabilitation of a player who has undergone an ulnar collateral ligament reconstruction can certainly be a longer process than the rehabilitation of other injuries and is definitely complicated by the fact that the players who’ve had “Tommy John” surgery are generally, and understandably, apprehensive throughout the rehab process. I feel, however, that, if the surgeon, athletic trainer, physical therapist, player and coaches who are involved in the athlete’s recovery work as a team and do their due diligence to follow a logical plan, the recovery process and return to activity can be less taxing.

AN: What are the odds you’ve found that the pitchers will be as good or better than before after “Tommy John” surgery in your experience rehabbing more than two dozen players?

LT The outcomes for players who’ve had UCL reconstruction are varied. Variables such as their injury history, surgery outcome, work ethics and compliance with the rehab and subsequent throwing program determine whether or not they will have a good outcome. The athletic trainer and everyone involved in the rehab process, as I mentioned earlier, working as a team has, in my experience, significantly improved the outcome for the players.

AN: How much do you enjoy working with athletes? Are they better and more disciplined patients than the rest of us?

LT: I enjoy working with any person who is motivated to get better—whether it be an athlete or not. It is rewarding to see an athlete get back to their sport and succeed again following an injury that required any amount of rehab. It is even more gratifying, however, to work with a patient in the clinical setting who is able to get back to work after an injury has kept them from doing what they need to do for their family.

AN: You always hear about the wear and tear on baseball players because of the everyday, 162-game season. What have you found are some of the best ways to keep them injury free?

LT: There are a number of strategies, when implemented and done on a consistent basis by the players, which can keep them off the DL disabled list. The top of which would be following a sound, year-round conditioning program and making adjustments to the program as needed. Addressing minor issues—strength or flexibility deficits, etc.—before they become injured is also crucial.

AN: What advice can you give those who also want to enter sports medicine and work with professional athletes like you do?

LT: The main piece of advice I would give an aspiring athletic trainer, no matter which setting they are entering, is to be prepared for anything and be prepared to work long hours.