Getting Hurlers Back in the Game after Elbow Ligament Injuries

Athletes who throw as part of their sport sometimes injure the ligament that crosses the inside edge of their elbow. This ligament is called the ulnar collateral. Its role is to keep the elbow from angling too far outward as the arm picks up speed for the throw. Throwers who injure this ligament face a choice between surgery and non-operative treatments.

This study examined how long it took athletes to return to their sports after non-operative treatment. A total of 31 athletes completed the year-long study. At first, the program involved resting the athletes' elbows and treatments to control their symptoms. The second part of rehabilitation included strengthening exercises and progressive throwing.
Thirteen athletes (42%) returned to their sport within an average of just under six months. These findings give players a ray of hope about their chances for returning to full-level play. The authors also suggest that the results can help estimate how long it might take a player to get back to throwing sports after non-operative treatment.

The authors also looked at factors that could potentially help predict whether non-operative treatment would let players return to full competition. These factors included the players' ages, the amount of time between injury and treatment, and whether symptoms were caused by a specific injury or developed gradually. The study found that none of these factors consistently predicted a player's return to competition.

References: Arthur C. Rettig, MD, et al. Nonoperative Treatment of Ulnar Collateral Ligament Injuries in Throwing Athletes. The American Journal of Sports Medicine. January/February 2001. Vol. 29 No. 1. Pp. 15-17.