The ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) is one of the main stabilizing ligaments in the elbow and is involved especially with overhead activities such as throwing and pitching. When this ligament is injured it can end a professional athlete’s career unless surgery is performed. The common sports activities that may cause UCL injury are
Other than sports, the common causes for UCL insufficiency are trauma and post-dislocation injuries. UCL injuries occur most often from repetitive overheard activities. The repetitive activity can cause microscopic tears and inflammation to the ligament eventually tearing completely.
Signs and symptoms of UCL injury can include the following:
The first surgery to repair a UCL injury was performed in 1974 to Tommy John, a famous pitcher at that time. As a result, you may hear the term “Tommy John surgery” when discussing UCL reconstruction surgery. Your physician will confirm the diagnosis of UCL insufficiency by collecting medical history, performing physical examination and diagnostic tests such as X-rays or MRI scans.
Your physician will recommend conservative treatment options to treat the symptoms associated with UCL injury unless you are a professional or collegiate athlete. In these cases, if the patient wants to continue in their sport, surgical reconstruction is performed.
Conservative treatment options that are commonly recommended for non-athletes include the following:
If conservative treatment options fail to resolve the condition and symptoms persist for 6 -12 months, your surgeon may recommend UCL Reconstruction surgery, also called Tommy John surgery, which involves replacing the torn ligament with a tendon from elsewhere in the body or from the cadaver. The most frequently used tissue is the Palmaris longus tendon in the forearm.
UCL Reconstruction surgery is performed in an operating room under local or general anesthesia.
After the surgery, you might be advised for a regular follow-up and also for rehabilitation program for better and quicker recovery.