What Is A Ucl Injury?

An injury to the ulnar collateral ligament, or UCL, is like a bump in the road for your elbow. This ligament is like a sturdy bridge that helps your elbow handle throwing and similar movements.

But when it gets injured, the bridge develops cracks, causing pain and making your elbow feel shaky and wobbly. The straightforward answer to “What is a UCL injury?” can be a damaged inner elbow joint.

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How Painful is UCL?

The most common type of UCL injury is a tear, which can happen slowly over time or suddenly from a major injury. The main sign of a UCL injury is pain inside the elbow. Sometimes, when you tear your UCL, it might feel like a “pop” after you throw something, and then your elbow pain intensifies.

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Types of Ulnar Collateral Ligament Injuries

The ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) sits inside your elbow and helps keep your arm bones together. When it’s overstretched or torn, it can cause elbow problems. There are different levels of UCL injuries, called grades:

  • Grade I – The ligament is stretched but not torn.
  • Grade II – The ligament is stretched and might be partly torn.
  • Grade III – The ligament is completely torn.

Causes of a UCL Injury

Using your elbow often, especially with repetitive motions like throwing, can lead to a tear in the ulnar collateral ligament (UCL). This often happens to baseball pitchers and other athletes who do a lot of overarm movements.

UCL injuries can vary from minor inflammation to a complete tear. Sometimes, a hard hit to the elbow can also cause a UCL tear, but most of the time, it’s caused by overusing it.

UCL Injury Symptoms

When you have a tear in your ulnar collateral ligament (UCL), you might feel a sudden “pop” or pain inside your elbow, especially when throwing something. Your elbow might hurt after doing a lot of throwing or overhead movements.

Sometimes, tingling or numbness can occur in your pinky and ring fingers. A UCL tear can make it hard to play sports that involve throwing, but you can still do everyday activities like carrying groceries.

It usually won’t stop you from exercising, lifting weights, running, or doing other activities that don’t involve throwing. Further symptoms include:

  • Weakness and shakiness in hand grip
  • Elbow stiffness
  • Limited range of motion in the arm
  • Bruising on swelling

UCL Injury Symptoms

There are both non-surgical and surgical treatments available for UCL injuries. It depends on the grade of injury you have.

Non-Invasive Treatments

Some people feel better without surgery by trying different remedies such as:

  • Change how you do things or use a brace to rest your elbow.
  • Putting ice or heat on your elbow.
  • Taking painkillers or medicines that reduce swelling.
  • Doing exercises to strengthen your elbow with a physical therapist’s help.

If these treatments don’t help, doctors might suggest surgery for UCL injuries. They decide what’s best for each person based on what they need and want to achieve with their therapy.

Surgical Treatment (Tommy John Surgery)

If other treatments don’t help your UCL tear, your surgeon might suggest surgery. It is called UCL reconstruction, also known as Tommy John surgery. It was first done on a baseball player named Tommy John in 1974.

During UCL reconstruction, the surgeon uses special techniques to ease pain, strengthen the elbow, and help the patient move better. They take tendons from other parts of the body or a donor and use them to rebuild the UCL.

This surgery is done carefully using tiny tools to get the best results. You and your surgeon will decide if this surgery is right for you.

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Final Word

If you wonder “what is a UCL injury,” the more popular name, baseball pitcher’s arm injury, might ring a bell. Luckily, orthopedic experts have plenty of treatments to prevent such inconveniences from disrupting your daily life.

Visit Dr. Cusick at Michael C. Cusick, M.D. Our board-certified orthopedic surgeon has performed many shoulder and elbow replacements, including revision surgeries. Call us at (713) 794-3599 to book an appointment.


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