More commonly known as ulnar collateral ligament injury (UCL), elbow ligament injury is a form of injury that commonly occurs among athletes of throwing sports such as baseball. The ulnar collateral ligament is the ligament that runs on the inner side of an elbow.
This injury is more commonly referred to as a “sprain” and occurs in three degrees:
1st degree: changes in the ligament are absent but physical discomfort is felt.
2nd degree: ligament is stretched subsequently changing the size and pain is present.
3rd degree: ligament has torn, and mobility is highly affected.
What causes elbow ligament injury?
An elbow ulnar collateral ligament injury is caused by:
Overuse of the UCL: leads to gradual degradement and wear and tear. This particular injury is caused by repeated throwing motions and frequent overarm movement.
Trauma: if an individual falls on an outstretched arm it could also lead to ulnar collateral ligament injury.
What are the symptoms of elbow ligament injury?
Symptoms for UCL injury vary depending on the degree of sprain.
Regardless, some of the symptoms that may manifest include:
Weakness in grip and general clumsiness
Swelling and bruising
“Pop” sound followed by the feeling of your elbow being stuck
Radiating pain from the elbow down to the ring and/or little finger
Numbness or tingling sensation
Loss of function of the elbow and occasionally, the entire arm (immobile)
If you notice any of the symptoms, make an appointment with an orthopaedic specialist to get an accurate diagnosis and treatment.
Dr Puah KL is our Senior Consultant Orthopaedic Surgeon at Artisan Sports & Orthopaedic Surgery. He used to serve the sports service of Singapore General Hospital - the highest volume trauma centre for orthopaedics in Singapore.
Depending on the degree of sprain, the pain level varies for each individual.
However, the shared experience among patients is excruciating pain and the inability to move their arms immediately after the injury takes place. Some patients have complained that they felt a dull pain that gradually worsened over a short period of time.
Who is at risk of elbow ligament injury in Singapore?
Elbow ligament injury, specifically UCL injury, is most common among baseball pitchers.
Apart from baseball athletes, this injury is also common among:
Athletes: such as gymnasts, climbers, javelin players, and lacrosse players, all of whom tend to overexert their ulnar collateral ligaments. Additionally, rugby and football players are also vulnerable to this injury due to high-impact falls.
Construction workers: ill-fitted equipment and inappropriate use of tools could make manual labourers prone to this injury.
Age: this injury is common amongelderly people only because they are prone to falls.
How is elbow ligament injury diagnosed?
Medical history and valgus stress test: inform your doctor of any events that may have caused this injury, such as trauma, exercise, or sports. Following your review, a physical test will be conducted by placing a finger on your ulnar collateral ligament area and testing it for mobility.
X-rays: whilst an x-ray does not identify issues at the UCL, it may be ordered if suspicion of fractures is evident.
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): during your MRI, a dye (arthrogram) may be injected into your elbow joint to increase the visibility of the ligament damages that may have occurred whilst the subsequent MRI procedure would aid in picking up tears and micro-fractures that cannot be picked up by x-rays.
What are the treatment options for elbow ligament injury in Singapore?
Treatment will depend if an infection has occurred.
Apart from that, treatment would typically involve:
Medications: oral drugs such as (NSAIDs) and painkillers are commonly prescribed to reduce inflammation and alleviate pain.
Splint/sling: you may be advised to wear a splint or a sling to minimise mobility and allow healing to take place.
Physiotherapy: physiotherapy involves gentle and therapeutic exercises to help improve the range of motion and improve the strength of weak muscles.
Platelet-Rich-Plasma injection: also known as PRP, blood is drawn and the platelet is subsequently separated to be injected at the site of injury especially if one is dealing with a partial UCL tear.
Surgery: you may be advised to undergo UCL direct repair in which your bone will be reattached. Apart from that, a UCL reconstruction (Tommy John Surgery) would be advised especially if non-surgical treatments do not prevail.
Frequently asked questions
Can elbow UCL injury heal on its own?
What is the recovery time for a UCL injury?
Feeling aches and pains?
Book a consultation with us for a more comprehensive diagnosis and a personalised treatment plan best suited to your needs.