Ulnar Collateral Ligament Tear
Serving as the primary stabilizer for the elbow joint, the Ulnar Collateral Ligament (UCL) consists of anterior, posterior and transverse bands. When the anterior band - which most prominently impacts valgus stability - is stressed,
it can tear or rupture.
The type of force required to damage the UCL in this way generally comes from overhead and throwing sports such as competitive volleyball, swimming, and baseball. During the acceleration of an overhead throw or movement, the largest
amount of valgus force is placed on the elbow - while the forearm disproportionately lags behind the upper arm causing valgus stress. The elbow becomes dependent on the anterior band of the UCL for stability. The extreme acceleration can cause the
valgus force to overcome the tensile strength of the UCL and result in either chronic microscopic tears or an acute rupture.
When a tear occurs, patients generally report feeling a "pop." There may also be weakness and poor arm function.
Once career-ending injuries for athletes, today better diagnostic techniques and treatment makes it no more than a minor set back.
Those at greatest risk for UCL injuries are competitive athletes involved in overhead sports - continuously subjecting their elbow to high acceleration flexion and extension activities.
Following a thorough examination and assessment of patient history and manner in which the injury occurred, an imaging scan is performed.
Depending on the severity of the injury, treatment may require only a change in activity for a period of time, followed by rehabilitative exercises. More severe tears and injuries nonresponsive to conservative treatment may require
exploratory arthroscopy to identify the severity of the damage and surgical repair.
An effective procedure used to repair such ligament injuries and popularized by former major league pitcher, Tommy John, is the Tommy John surgery - also known as ulnar collateral ligament reconstruction.
During this procedure the damaged ligament is replaced with tendon from another part of the body, in order to restore strength to the elbow and forearm.