UCL Tear vs. Elbow Tendonitis: What's the Difference?

Elbow pain


What is a UCL Tear?

A UCL tear, also known as an ulnar collateral ligament tear, occurs when a ligament on the inner elbow is torn.


UCL Tear Symptoms

When it comes to UCL tears, there are a variety of symptoms you may experience:


UCL Tear Causes

A UCL tear is often caused by overuse. At Elite Sports Medicine, we commonly see athletes who experience UCL tears from throwing in sports like baseball. When the UCL is torn, an athlete may feel a sudden pop occur (acute injury) or develop a UCL injury overtime from overuse (chronic injury.)


UCL Tear Treatment

UCL tears may be able to be treated conservatively. Your elbow doctor may recommend medication, ice/heat, activity modification, physical therapy, and PRP injections.

If you have a severe UCL tear, you may need Tommy John Surgery. In this surgery, the UCL is reconstructed using another part from the body, or a donor.


What is Elbow Tendonitis?

Tendonitis of the elbow occurs when the tissue that connects the forearm to the elbow is inflamed. If you have elbow tendonitis, you may have tennis elbow or golfer’s elbow. Tennis elbow occurs on the outer side of the elbow, while golfer’s elbow occurs on the inner side.


Elbow Tendonitis Symptoms


Elbow Tendonitis Causes

Tendonitis is typically caused by overuse. Playing certain sports like tennis, golf, or baseball can increase the risk of developing elbow tendonitis. In addition, jobs that require using your arm or wrist often can lead to inflammation of the tissue in the elbow.


Elbow Tendonitis Treatment

Elbow tendonitis can often heal over time. If you have elbow tendonitis, your elbow doctor may recommend non-surgical treatment like activity modification, medication, ice, physical therapy, or a brace.

If your tendonitis hasn’t improved after conservative treatment options, your doctor may recommend surgery.


What are the Similarities Between a UCL Tear and Tendonitis?

Both UCL tears and elbow tendonitis are caused by overuse injury, typically from playing a sport. With both conditions you may feel pain and stiffness in the elbow as well as limited mobility of the arm.


What are the Differences Between a UCL Tear and Tendonitis?

If you are experience elbow pain, it can be difficult to determine what injury or condition you may have and how you need to treat it.

Many of the symptoms between a UCL tear and tendonitis are similar; however, when the UCL is torn, you may hear a pop. Golfer’s elbow and UCL tears both affect the inner elbow, while tennis elbow affects the outer elbow. In addition, a UCL tear and golfer’s elbow may both cause tingling and numbness in the pinky and ring fingers, but tennis elbow should not.


How do I Determine What is Wrong With my Elbow?

To determine whether you have a UCL tear, elbow tendonitis, or another condition of the elbow, seek the help of an elbow specialist near you. Our hand and upper extremity doctors in Tennessee specialize in a range of elbow conditions. To schedule an appointment, call us or request online.


Marina von Rutenberg Marina is the Marketing Coordinator for Elite Sports Medicine + Orthopedics. She has been writing and reviewing medical content since 2021. https://www.linkedin.com/in/marina-von-rutenberg/

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