Can the Ulnar Collateral Ligament Heal Itself?

Reviewed on 3/30/2021

Ulnar Collateral Ligament (UCL)
A UCL consists of three types of bands, which include front (anterior), back (posterior), and across (transverse). The front band is the most important for the stability of the elbow.

Minor ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) injury can heal itself with nonsurgical treatments. However, if you want to perform any strenuous overhead or throwing activity or if the ligament has an advanced grade tear, then your doctor may recommend surgical repair for the torn UCL. The following steps may help you to relieve the pain, reduce inflammation, and stabilize elbow movement faster.

  • Rest: When UCL gets torn, it may heal better in a neutral position. Get proper rest and avoid hand movements and splints.
  • Ice pack: Applying ice to the elbow daily might help soothe the pain and reduce swelling at the site of the ligament.
  • Pain relievers: Your doctor may suggest some pain relievers, such as Aspirin, Ibuprofen, or Naproxen.
  • Physiotherapy: Once your inflammation and swelling are reduced, you should start physical therapy to strengthen the muscle around the elbow to compensate for the torn ligament.

Your doctor may recommend surgical reconstruction in which a tendon is taken from somewhere else from your body and grafted at the elbow. Tunnels are drilled in the ulna and humerus to secure the new tendon graft.

What is the ulnar collateral ligament?

Ligaments are strong bands of tissue that hold bones together and control joint movements. A ligament serves as a tether between two joint bones. When the ligament gets injured, the tether becomes too long, and the bones move too much. This may cause intense pain and a sense of instability or looseness. You will be unable to work.

Ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) or internal lateral ligament is a thick triangular band located on the inner side of your elbow. It is attached on one side of the upper arm bone (humerus) and the other side to a longer forearm bone opposite to the thumb, known as ulna.

A UCL consists of three types of bands, which include front (anterior), back (posterior), and across (transverse). The front band is the most important for the stability of the elbow.

How long does it take to heal?

Your physician and physical therapist will monitor your progress. If your UCL tear can be treated with a conservative approach, the recovery may take from several weeks to months. It depends on the range of motion you are trying to achieve in your elbow.

If your doctor has recommended reconstruction surgery, then recovery and rehabilitation can take almost 9 months to a year or sometimes longer.

In this reconstruction surgery, your elbow will be fixed in a hinged brace to gradually increase the range of motion until you can fully extend it.

If you are planning to return to sports and compete, you will need continuous rigorous physical therapy sessions to strengthen your elbow to handle the stress. Although the recovery experience is different for everyone, never hurry to return to sports. Too much stress on the graft may increase the risk of surgical failure.

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References
McGorry A. How to Avoid Elbow Injury. WebMD. https://www.webmd.com/fitness-exercise/features/how-to-avoid-elbow-injury#1

Johns Hopkins Medicine. Ulnar Collateral Ligament (UCL) Injuries of the Elbow. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/ulnar-collateral-ligament-ucl-injuries-of-the-elbow

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