UCL Tear 2016-10-12T12:39:59+00:00

UCL Tear

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What is a UCL Tear?

Ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) injuries occur when repetitive stress damages the inside of the elbow. They are often referred to as “Tommy John” injuries, named after the famous baseball pitcher who underwent the first surgery for a UCL injury in 1974.

The ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) is located in the elbow and connects the bone in the upper arm to a bone in the forearm. The UCL can become stretched, frayed or torn through the stress of repetitive throwing motions. Professional baseball pitchers are the athletes most frequently afflicted with this type of injury; but javelin throwers, football players, racquetball players and ice hockey players have also reported UCL injuries. The stretching, fraying and tearing is caused by an athlete’s reliance on the constant throwing motions requiring his or her dominant arm and elbow.

Symptoms of UCL Injury

With a UCL injury, a patient may experience:

  • Pain when using your arm in an overhead position (eg, pitching, throwing)
  • Soreness on the inside edge of your elbow
  • Minor swelling along the inside of your arm
  • Possible numbness and tingling in your arm
  • Instability at your elbow joint (feels like your elbow might give out when you move it through a motion related to your sport)

The UCL injury is most commonly seen in overhead athletes such as baseball pitchers as they may note pain, decreased velocity, and loss of control.

Treatment of UCL Injury

Most UCL injuries in non overhead athletes and patients respond to rest and rehabilitation, with no need for invasive procedures. However, a combination of ice, rest, anti-inflammatory medication and activity modification alone may restore the use and strength of the elbow.

Surgery may be required if your doctor determines that your elbow joint is very unstable. Surgery consists of reconstructing or repairing the torn ligament. Strengthening exercises will be incorporated into your rehabilitation program, as well as a gradual return to throwing.

Ligament Reconstruction (Tommy John Surgery)

The Tommy John surgery is also known as UCL reconstruction. It is named after a former baseball pitcher who was the first to undergo a surgery of this type. With repetitive-use injuries, the UCL develops tiny or large tears, which causes stretching and lengthening in the ligament. Ultimately, this weakening of the ligament impinges on its ability to hold bones tightly together during throwing activities. The Tommy John surgical procedure replaces the injured UCL in the elbow with a tendon taken from somewhere else in the patient’s body.

Generally, there is a rehabilitation period of one year after the Tommy John surgery. The rehabilitation period will be monitored closely by Dr. Eastwood and your physical therapy team; and your recovery will be divided into phases to ensure that the recovery period is gradual and successful.

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