Treatment for Ulnar Collateral Ligament Tears
A mild ulnar collateral ligament injury will often resolve on its own with conservative treatment. This includes rest, ice, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications, and sometimes, therapy. Dr. Millett may place the arm in a cast or splint in order to allow the ligament to heal properly and stay protected. Additionally, physical therapy may be utilized to strengthen surrounding muscles and improve throwing mechanics.
In high-level athletes, patients who have acute trauma associated with an ulnar collateral ligament tear, we are now performing UCL repair and this is augmented with an internal brace to provide additional stability. Recovery is typically 4 to 5 months.
In those with chronic UCL tears or for those who experience persistent elbow pain and elbow instability, a reconstruction surgery may be required. Ulnar collateral ligament tears and ruptures that are more chronic are treated using a surgical approach where the ligament is reconstructed using a soft tissue graft. This surgical technique, known as the “Tommy John” procedure, will use the patient’s own tissue from the forearm to reconstruct the ligament. Research has shown that this particular tendon provides similar anatomical characteristics as the native ligament. Some patients may require an allograft (donor tissue) to achieve reconstruction.
Following ulnar collateral ligament surgery, patients are required to wear a brace for approximately 6 weeks, after which moderate exercises and movements of the arm can occur. Physical therapy will be a progressive process that will initially focus on range of motion, and later, strengthening exercises. Most patients are able to return to their sporting activities in roughly 4-6 months following surgery. Throwing at a competitive level may take a full year for maximal recovery.
For additional resources on ulnar collateral ligament tears, or to determine the appropriate treatment for your UCL injury, please contact the orthopedic practice of Dr. Peter Millett.
How does Tommy John Surgery Treat a Torn UCL?