An ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) tear is an elbow injury prevalent among baseball pitchers and athletes who throw. The team at Elite Sports Medicine + Orthopedics provides UCL tear treatment for adolescents and adults at four locations in Nashville and one in Franklin, Tennessee. For advanced treatment of UCL tears, call the nearest office or book an appointment online today.
The ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) attaches your upper arm bone to the ulna, one of the bones in your forearm. The UCL supports your elbow and helps you perform certain motions, like throwing a baseball.
Overuse or trauma can cause the UCL to tear, causing elbow pain and instability, making it difficult or impossible to throw a ball.
Tommy John surgery is a UCL tear treatment that gets its name from a baseball pitcher – the first person to undergo a UCL reconstruction procedure and return to play successfully.
Most UCL tears occur gradually due to repetitive stress on the ligament. Athletes who use overhead arm motions like throwing are most likely to injure their UCL this way.
You can also tear your UCL suddenly, like from a fall on an outstretched arm. A sudden UCL tear may occur with other acute injuries, like an elbow fracture or dislocation.
You may have a UCL tear if you experience the following signs and symptoms:
UCL tear symptoms most often affect your ability to participate in throwing sports. You may still be able to carry out most daily living activities, like carrying a bag of groceries.
UCL tears and tendonitis of the elbow can both have similar symptoms, which is why it is important to seek the help of an orthopedic surgeon to determine your diagnosis and treatment plan.
UCL tears and elbow tendonitis are both often caused by overuse, and both conditions may present symptoms like elbow pain and stiffness. If you hear a "pop" in your elbow when you are injured, there is a good chance you have a UCL tear. In addition, UCL tears may cause tingling and numbness in the pinky and ring fingers, but elbow tendonitis may not.
UCL injuries can be challenging to diagnose, which is why it’s essential to seek treatment from the expert team at Elite Sports Medicine + Orthopedics.
They thoroughly review your medical history and perform a physical exam that may include a valgus stress test, which evaluates the condition of your UCL.
On-site imaging tests at Elite Sports Medicine + Orthopedics, like an X-ray or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan, help the team diagnose your UCL injury so they can develop a treatment plan.
Many people find sufficient pain relief from the conservative treatment of UCL tears. Non-surgical treatments include:
If non-surgical treatment doesn’t work, or if you’re a throwing athlete who wants to return to sports, surgery may be necessary.
The expert team at Elite Sports Medicine + Orthopedics specializes in UCL tear surgery — also called Tommy John surgery — which involves reconstructing the UCL with a tendon from another part of your body or a donor. We typically perform this surgery when the ligament tear is severe enough that it causes instability of the elbow or limits the individual from activities they enjoy.
UCL tear surgery happens while you're asleep under general anesthesia. Your surgeon makes an incision along the inside of your elbow to expose the ligament. They remove damaged tissue and drill holes in the lower arm bone, or the ulna, and upper arm bone, the humerus, which the UCL connects. The new tendon gets threaded through these holes and secured by sutures, screws or buttons to form a new ligament.
UCL tear surgery is typically an outpatient procedure, which means you can usually return home on the same day. After surgery, your surgeon will secure your elbow in a brace, and you can begin physical therapy right away.
By the end of the first month, you may be able to stop wearing the brace. The amount of time it takes to recover varies largely based on the patients goals post operatively. Most will have full range of motion by 6-8 weeks and can begin gentle strengthening somewhere between 8-12 weeks.
If you think you have a UCL tear, call Elite Sports Medicine + Orthopedics, or book an appointment online today. We offer UCL tear treatment at each of our facilities, including four Nashville, Tennessee, locations and one Franklin, Tennessee, location.
Our UCL Tear Specialists