We are here with Kinnelon’s Paul Cannarella. Paul came to us in the fall of his senior year and has been training with us for almost a year. He graduated from Kinnelon High School this year and unfortunately during this spring season he hurt his elbow. He had Tommy John surgery and he is now on his path to recovery. I thought it could be a great interview and learning experience to hear Paul tell his story first hand.
Nunzio: Paul, thanks for being here today, seriously thanks a lot. I know it’s not always fun to talk about what’s happened so I really appreciate it. I am hoping that others can benefit from reading this interview. For starters, can you please tell us a little bit about yourself?
Paul: I was born and raised in Mountain Lakes, New Jersey. I went to Kinnelon High School. I am currently attending County College of Morris (CCM) for my freshman year. I played travel baseball with Baseball U, a program based out of central / south Jersey.
Nunzio: Can you talk a little about where you are in the recovery process and how it’s going? When was your surgery? How long is the path to recovery and what’s involved?
Paul: Right now, I am about three and a half months out and three weeks away from starting my throwing program, which I am really excited about. Post-surgery, I have been coming here consistently. I am getting the rest of my body strong and losing a lot of body fat, and working towards putting on muscle.
I have also been going to Debbie Barker at TruCare Physical Therapy for my PT work. She is awesome. My arm feels great. I had full-range of motion two weeks after surgery. Usually it takes up to six weeks to get it back, but I have been progressing really well.
Nunzio: That brings up an interesting point to me. I spoke to Debbie recently and she told me that she hadn’t seen anyone make such a rapid recovery so quickly after surgery. She attributed that to your commitment and the constant dialog that her and I are having with respect to your training and programming. For those out there, reading this interview, I think that’s a really important takeaway. The dialog between your PT and strength coach is really important as they need to collaborate on your recovery. The closer they work together the better for you. I think Debbie is great and we have had a lot of success working together with athletes. She has had a tremendous amount of experience with rehab and she is completely plugged into baseball, having worked closely with Dr. Altchek (with Hospital for Special Surgery and the the Medical Director / Orthopedist for Mets).
When was your surgery and how long is the path to recovery?
Paul: My surgery took place on May 17th. The recovery process varies and can be all over the place depending on each athlete. Some recover in as early as 9 months, while others could be as long as 16 months. The average time is about 11 months after surgery to be game-ready. And that’s what I am aiming for.
Nunzio: A lot of guys hear about Tommy John and obviously they hope they don’t have to go through it. Much of the information suggests that the damage begins in early years with overuse. So, looking back, all the way to perhaps the Little League years, can you talk a little about how much and how often you played the game?
Paul: Nunz, when I was 10 years old, I was not only throwing on the weekends but I was also throwing during the week. I pitched year round and in the off-season I would throw 2 bullpens per week. I was my parent’s first son so we just didn’t know any better.
Nunzio: I am sorry to interrupt you here, but Paul, you’re a big guy. Through the grapevine I have heard that you always threw hard, even as a youngster. You are telling me you were throwing constantly and I know you also threw pretty hard for a young age. Do you know how hard you threw, how young?
Paul: At 11 years old, I remember I was told I was throwing 74 mph. I was throwing hard. I also threw often and I threw a lot. I remember at one time I was at the Rehoboth Beach tournament in Delaware and I threw 120 pitches in one weekend which is unfortunately a lot. So, yes, I threw hard and I threw a lot.
Nunzio: I know you received Platelet-Rich Plasma (PRP) shots the year prior to coming here for a partial tear in your UCL. Can you tell us a little about that decision and whether you thought that was helpful?
Paul: I got the shots because I wanted to avoid the Tommy John surgery. I was terrified about having Tommy John and I was hoping the shots would deal with it. Looking back, it obviously wasn’t a good decision because the numbers on PRP aren’t very good. Very rarely do PRPs heal UCL tears. So, I got them with the hopes that it would get better, but it didn’t. Now I am missing my Freshman year of college ball. I wish I had just proceeded with the surgery one year earlier.
Nunzio: A lot of times, doing certain techniques are just putting a band-aid on a scab and once you pull it off you’re back where you started. It’s really just delaying and prolonging things.
I believe Dr. Christopher Ahmad did your surgery. Correct? What did he tell you after surgery about what he discovered once he opened up your elbow? I am assuming they share that info with you.
Paul: He told us that my UCL was far worse than the MRIs had shown. I had had a complete tear of my UCL, it wasn’t even a partial tear. He said I wouldn’t have been able to play competitively again if I hadn’t had the surgery. I had also had calcium built-up on the inside of my ligament as the elbow was trying to re-stabilize itself as I was throwing.
Nunzio: A lot of times that calcium build-up becomes like a sharp bone or knife that also starts to wear away at the ligament. Did you have elbow pain all along over the years of pitching? When did it start? Did it ever go away?
Paul: I remember starting to have pain around 14 years old. I had surgery around 15 years old to remove some broken bone spurs and torn cartilage in my elbow. My elbow never really got better. It took 2 years for my arm to recover from that surgery. And as soon as that got better I had my TJ surgery. I am really looking forward to getting better and being healthy. It’s been a while.
Nunz, part of the problem also was that I was so worried about getting recruited that you just keep going. I was throwing a year with a bad arm and that obviously didn’t help things.
Nunzio: I know you are going to a PT as well as training here. Can you tell us a little about the work you are doing at the PT vs. what you are doing here during your recovery?
Paul: My work with Debbie at TruCare is a lot of elbow stabilization work to help my elbow to be able to absorb shock again. We are also strengthening my shoulder. I have learned that often elbow issues are due to shoulder issues because you are compensating elsewhere.
Nunzio: One of the things I am taking away from this conversation is that you have learned a great deal about your body in this process. You have learned a lot about your elbow which I think is also teaching you how to take care of it. I also have to ask you about the gains you have made here in the gym just training while your arm is recovering
Paul: I have probably lost about 20 lbs. of fat while gaining 10-15 lbs. of muscle. I have gotten a lot stronger as I am moving a lot more weight. I don’t have to worry about re-strengthening my body when my arm is ready to get stronger. Eight months from now, I only have to worry about getting my arm back to level it was before.
Nunzio: Exactly Paul. Seriously great job, so far. Tell us a little about your plans now going forward? When do you think you will be back on the mound?
Paul: I start my throwing program in 3 weeks and I will be on the mound in about 3 months and I will be game ready by April. That’s my plan and I am very excited to get back.
Nunzio: How about your plans for playing college ball?
Paul: I am going to do one of two things. Either I am going to go to Harford Community College in Maryland or play at Kean University in New Jersey. I would like to take my time and let my game develop to where I know I can take it.
Nunzio: Any final words for the young ones out there?
Paul: Don’t overthrow and make sure you get lots of rest. That’s my biggest advice. It’s really not fun missing the game.
Nunzio: You know, it’s interesting, I see many parents who are worried about bringing their young players to the weight room, yet they have them throwing a baseball 10 months out of the year, and in tournaments all weekend long. They are doing tons of damage by playing non-stop and playing year-round but then they are worried about what happens in the weight room.
Paul, seriously thanks a lot for your time. Kudos to you, you are making a remarkable comeback. Your work ethic is bar-none. Keep it going.
Paul: Thanks Nunz.
Nunzio: I think I’ll sum it up by saying that the one thing that we know that can continually predict injury is overuse, especially when it starts at an early age. Young athletes simply do not possess the strength early on to withstand the amount of stress throwing a baseball places on the entire body. Combine this with overuse and you may end up with a less than optimal situation on your hands. My advice, 8-12 weeks of complete shutdown/year and begin a supervised strength training program (ages 13/14) to gain some lean muscle mass and help combat the stress of throwing.