The incidence of ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) injuries of the elbow in young athletes is on the rise. With more and more young children playing sports, we may expect to see many unexpected injuries.
Chronically overloading the joint can cause microtears of the ligament. Too many pitches over too many practices and games can eventually lead to a partial tear or even complete rupture of the UCL.
Fortunately, it may be possible to rehab these injuries. It takes three or four months, but a physical therapy rehab program can be very successful. The athlete can return to his or her previous level of sports play without invasive surgery.
But if instability and/or pain persist, then surgery may be needed to repair or reconstruct the area. Repair is more likely in the younger athlete who hasn't damaged the entire length of the ligament or developed bone spurs from chronic abuse.
If the ligament has torn just at one end (instead of both ends), reattaching it is a possible option. More than one tear in the tendon may require more advanced (reconstructive) surgery. Repairing rather than reconstructing the elbow is less invasive with a faster recovery and return-to-sport time.
A favorable outcome has been reported in several studies of young athletes with this type of injury.