What Is Ulnar Collateral Ligament Injuries?

The ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) is the main ligament that stabilizes the inner aspect of the elbow joint during the act of throwing. The UCL can become stretched, frayed or torn through the stress of repetitive throwing motions or by falling on an outstretched arm.

For athletes, especially baseball pitchers, the force on the soft tissues becomes greater than the tensile strength of the structure. This can result in tiny tears of the ligament. Many times, an individual won't have significant pain at this point and will continue to throw for months or even years. This leads to microtears, degeneration and the rupturing of the ligament. Oftentimes, an athlete will pinpoint a single instance which led to the injury. However, it is likely that the ligament simply became too weak and eventually tore.

Symptoms

  • Pain and tenderness along the inside of the elbow, especially during the acceleration phase of throwing.
  • Elbow stiffness; inability to straighten the elbow
  • Numbness or tingling in the ring and little fingers and hand
  • Swelling and bruising at the inner elbow and upper forearm after 24 hours (if there is an acute tear)
  • If there are loose fragments or uneven joint surfaces, you may also notice popping, catching, or grinding.

Treatment at Penn

If the tear to the ulnar collateral ligament is minor, it may heal on its own. Non-surgical treatment for the ligament tear consists of medications, ice and rest to relieve pain and swelling. Rehabilitation would also be an extremely important component.

Tommy John surgery, known as ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) reconstruction is the common surgical treatment for UCL tears.

Penn Programs & Services for Ulnar Collateral Ligament Injuries

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Shoulder and Elbow

Our shoulder and elbow specialists treat people who have shoulder or elbow injuries or problems such as arthritis.

Sports Medicine

We know you want to get back to your favorite activities. Learn about our unique approach to the prevention, diagnosis, treatment, and rehabilitation of sports-related injuries.

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