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OrthoArizona has 70 premier musculoskeletal specialists. The orthopedic surgeons and primary care physicians specialize in all areas of orthopedic care including sports, medicine, spine, shoulder and elbow, hand and wrist, hip and knee, foot and ankle, podiatry, trauma, industrial injuries and workers’ compensation.

How do you Treat a Torn Ligament in your Elbow?

Torn elbow ligaments are a more common injury than you might expect, particularly among sports players. It does not matter what sort of sport you play: if you spend a lot of time on physical activity on a regular basis, a torn elbow ligament is just one of those things you are at risk of.

If you find yourself experiencing a numbness or tingling in your hand, or an unexpectedly stiff, inflexible elbow, then that is a likely sign that you have injured your elbow somehow. Most often, that means you have torn a ligament, although there are other possible injuries with similar symptoms that you may also have experienced. The most common elbow injury, though, is an Ulnar Collateral Ligament Tear, often abbreviated to a UCL tear.

Below, we will introduce you to what an ulnar collateral ligament tear is and what it means for you, as well as talk you through the basics of treatment and the types of things that a sports medicine specialist is likely to recommend to you as a treatment for an ulnar collateral ligament tear. So, no matter how confused you are by the complex world of sports injuries, just read on below to find out more about the basics of this common type of elbow injury for sporting athletes!

What Are Ulnar Collateral Ligament Tears?

An ulnar collateral ligament tear, otherwise known as a UCL tear, is a common type of injury to a ligament located in your elbow. Ligaments are bands of tough tissue that connect one bone to another and are essentially the hinges in your joints that allow them to bend. The ulnar collateral ligament is the ligament that attaches the humerus to the ulna, supporting and stabilizing the entirety of your arm. When this particular ligament is injured, there are several different levels of damage it might receive. Your ulnar collateral ligament could be stretched, partially torn, or even completely torn.

But how do you know when you have torn your ulnar collateral ligament? Well, to start with, you might hear it! When the ulnar collateral ligament tears, many people report hearing an audible popping sound. In most cases, you will also find yourself unable to continue activity after experiencing a tear to your ulnar collateral ligament. Other common symptoms of a UCL tear include the following:

  • Noticeable swelling or bruising around the inner elbow area and upper forearm
  • Significant elbow stiffness or an inability to fully straighten the elbow
  • A weakened grip in the hand on the injured side
  • A new inability to throw a ball at your normal top speed
  • A feeling of numbness or a tingling sensation in the hand

What Causes Ulnar Collateral Ligament Tears?

Repeated motions put stress and wear and tear on whichever parts of your body are bending in those motions. In the case of your elbows, the wear and tear caused by repeated throwing motions may often cause the fibers in your ulnar collateral ligament to start to stretch and fray. Over a longer period of time, small tears in the ligament tissue, commonly known as microtears, can develop and eventually cause the ligament to rupture. The most common causes of ulnar collateral ligament tears include the following:

  • Any sort of overuse of the ligament caused by a work or sports activity, such as throwing a baseball or football, that puts any stress on your inner elbow when you do it.
  • A single sudden movement that tears or excessively twists a ligament, such as a fall onto an outstretched hand or onto your elbow. Any sort of sharp elbow impact can do this, such as another person falling onto your elbow.

To confirm whether you have an injury to your ulnar collateral ligament, your sports medicine specialist will usually want to perform a thorough examination, as well as ask about all of your symptoms and what activity you were performing when the injury occurred. They will then probably want to take X-rays or similar scans, like an ultrasound, MRI, or possibly an arthrogram, to evaluate the extent and severity of the damage.

Treatments for Ulnar Collateral Ligament Tears

Treatments for UCL tears vary depending on how severe the injury is. For milder UCL injuries, a simple, nonsurgical procedure may be enough to get you back to full performance. This type of treatment includes rest and ice, anti-inflammatory medication, and additional physical therapy to improve your range of motion and strengthen your elbow muscles. You may also be recommended Platelet-Rich Plasma (PRP) injections as a treatment. PRP is a type of Prolotherapy that promotes the body’s ability to heal itself in order to help repair injured ligaments.

If you have no luck with nonsurgical treatments, further options may be recommended. Your doctor may suggest something known as “Tommy John surgery.” This is named after Tommy John, a famous baseball pitcher who was the first to undergo this surgery for a UCL tear back in 1974. This is a graft procedure that replaces the injured ligament with a tendon from somewhere else in your body, such as the hamstring or somewhere in your foot. The grafted tendon is then attached to the bones of your elbow and fixed in place with either sutures or screws.

This is major surgery, so rehabilitation after Tommy John surgery can take months, depending on your body and your natural healing rates. In most cases, physical therapy is recommended to strengthen your elbow and improve your range of motion. However, recovery may take even longer if there is additional damage to your arm beyond the UCL tear.

Speak with an Orthopedic Specialist Today

Are you suffering from a recent injury? Make an appointment with one of our orthopedic specialists today to start your healing journey. OrthoArizona has nearly two dozen offices throughout the Valley, each focused on quality care, compassion, and excellent customer service. Since 1994, OrthoArizona has been dedicated to compassionate care of the highest quality.

The advice and information contained in this article are for educational purposes only and are not intended to replace or counter a physician’s advice or judgment. Please always consult your physician before taking any advice learned here or other educational medical material.