Baseball pitchers often see injuries of the ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) because the persistent overhand pitching motion causes extreme stress on the elbow, which tears the UCL ligament. In fact, UCL surgery was first performed on Major League Baseball pitcher Tommy John and is therefore called “Tommy John” surgery. A UCL injury is not limited to baseball players, however. It affects a myriad of athletes including gymnasts, wrestlers, and football players. The severity of an injury to the ulnar collateral ligament varies, as it can tear in various locations, and the tear can be complete or partial.
What causes a UCL Injury?
UCL injury is most commonly developed with long periods of overuse and repetition, such as those associated with the heavy practice and playing schedules of baseball players.
How do you know you have a UCL Injury?
The most common symptoms of an ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) injury are:
- Pain on the inside of the elbow
- Feeling a “pop” in the arm
- Arm or elbow motion limitations
- Decreased throwing velocity
How does OSI fix a UCL Injury?
Because the ulnar collateral ligament is located in the arm, it is considered part of the upper extremity. A board-certified OSI upper extremity specialist will listen while you explain your symptoms, discuss your concerns, and examine you for signs and symptoms of an injury to the ulnar collateral ligament. If you are an athlete who wants to keep pursuing your sport, a personalized treatment path will be tailored to you, considering factors such as timing of the season and playing goals. Some, or all, of the following will be conducted to help OSI doctors diagnose your UCL injury and how severe it may be:
- Physical exam. Your OSI orthopedic specialist will perform a careful examination of your arm. There will be a discussion regarding your general health, the nature of your participation in athletics, and the first appearance of your symptoms. Your doctor will also check the strength, stability and range of motion of the elbow.
- X-rays. X-rays will show your OSI specialist any stress fractures and/or bone spurs.
- MRI. An MRI will show an image of the injury area and assist your OSI specialist in assessing the severity of the ligament tear.
Most treatment regimens begin with rest. Your OSI orthopedic specialist may also suggest the following:
- Physical therapy exercises or programs to help restore strength and flexibility
- Corrective throwing mechanics to relieve stress put on the elbow
- Anti-inflammatory medications to relieve pain and reduce swelling
Surgical treatment may be considered if symptoms continue. Your orthopedic surgeon may suggest repair or reconstruction, using either arthroscopy or UCL reconstruction, depending on the severity of your injury.
Full recovery is promising with the diagnosis and treatment plan OSI orthopedic specialists design for UCL injuries. There is a high rate of return for athletes –pro, amateur, and weekend – after suffering a UCL injury.