The ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) is located on the inside side of the elbow, and it joins the ulna to the upper arm bone (the humerus). UCL’s primary function is to provide stability and support to the elbow during overhead motions like throwing and pitching. Thus, this ligament is prone to sprain or injuries and sudden ruptures due to forceful or repetitive overhead throwing in sports like volleyball and racquet sports, or even falling on an outstretched arm.
Athletes who use their upper limbs regularly in activities like tennis, javelin throwing, pitching sports, and fencing are vulnerable to UCL injuries caused by an abrupt onset injury or long-term damage (over time). An acute injury can occur if the elbow is put under too much pressure in a short time, resulting in ligament tearing. This type of damage generally results in an audible “pop” sound and considerable pain!
On the other hand, the repetitive pressure of throwing or swinging the arm might lead to a long-term injury or micro-fractures in the ligament.
What are the symptoms of UCL injuries?
- Pain on the inner side (medial) part of the elbow
- Unstable elbow joint
- Elbow sensitivity t pressure and movement
- Inflammation, swelling, or bruising in the elbow
- Restricted range of motion in the upper arm
- Poor efficiency in throwing activities such as baseball
- Insufficient grip strength
- Numbness in the fingers
- Weak throwing velocity
How are UCL injuries diagnosed?
Our orthopedic specialists at Novomed will start with a physical examination to search for signs of discomfort and ligament laxity (looseness). They may perform active and passive range-of-motion tests, assess the arm’s strength and stability, or feel for any anomalies.
Also, your doctor may order an X-ray scan to help rule out other potential causes of pain and weakness, such as a fracture, but it won’t show soft tissue like ligaments. An ultrasonic imaging study can reveal ligament laxity and any abnormal swelling. MRIs can also be used to show the location and severity of the rupture and the ligament’s general health.
How are UCL injuries treated?
Many athletes who suffer from elbow instability due to a UCL injury can manage their symptoms with rehabilitation programs without the need for invasive procedures. Our expert physiotherapists will advise you to rest or limit your activity for a couple of weeks to allow the ligament to heal. They’ll also assess and adjust your posture, strength with special exercises for a successful recovery.
Patients may also be prescribed painkillers and anti-inflammatory medications to alleviate their symptoms. Please note that using ice compressions must be performed with caution as too much cold might aggravate the swelling and irritate the ligament that is already injured.
If the treatments mentioned above fail to relieve your symptoms, your doctor may suggest surgery. Surgical UCL rehabilitation is more commonly performed on athletes who require muscular and stable elbows to practice certain sports.
Surgical UCL treatment options vary depending on the type of injury. Your surgeon might be able to restore the UCL if it was injured in one traumatic incident and torn away from the bone (direct repair). Otherwise, you may need UCL reconstruction if the ligament has been damaged over time. This is referred to as “Tommy John Surgery,” it requires using tendons from elsewhere in your body or from a donor.
Book your appointment at Novomed today!
Sports injuries can affect the functionality and mobility of several individuals. Our orthopedic physicians at Novomed strive to optimize the quality of life for patients with these disorders and assist them in regaining a healthy level of physical activity. Novomed’s expert medical team provides evaluation, diagnostic tests, surgical and non-surgical treatments for musculoskeletal diseases, and designs personalized treatment plans for each patient.
If you have any inquiries about our orthopedic services or want to book an appointment with our Ortho Specialist, feel free to call us toll-free at 800 (NOVO) 6686 or fill out the booking form on our website.