Ulnar collateral ligament injuries are common with athletes who are involved in repetitive throwing activities such as bowling and fielding in cricket. Javelin throwers, football players, ice hockey players, tennis players, badminton players, and water polo players also succumb to ulnar collateral injuries very frequently. Trauma resulting from unexpected fall on the outstretched arm also can cause ulnar collateral ligament injuries.
The ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) is an important ligament in the elbow for the throwing athletes. It is the ligament present on the medial side of the elbow. Most clients report that they experience an aching pain inside the elbow or on the medical side of the elbow when they sustained a UCL injury. It will also lead to low velocity and lack of control of the throw by an athlete.
What are the causes of ulnar collateral ligament injuries?
Stress produced by repetitive throwing motions during sporting activities can stretch or tear the ulnar collateral ligaments. In the beginning, small tears appear as a result of continuous stretching during sports. Poor mechanics and inflexibility are some of the reasons why these type of tears manifest. Gradually, the tears become larger, sometimes degenerate, and finally rupture completely. Usually, athletes notice a pop sound and immediate pain around the area when the rupture takes place. The weight of the throw, the mechanics of the throw, and the natural strength of your ligament contribute to the development of collateral ligament injuries.
What are the symptoms of ulnar collateral ligament injuries?
In the beginning, ulnar collateral ligament injuries manifest as pain inside the elbow. You may be able to notice severe pain when you accelerate your hand for a throw. Incidentally, you tend to lose the velocity and direction of the throw. If there is loose or broken fragments present, it may produce grinding, popping, or catching sensations. Minor swelling may be noticed along the region of the pain. If the rupture is severe, bruising may develop. Gradually, the range of motion of the elbow decreases and hinge movements of the elbow become painful.
How is ulnar collateral ligament injuries diagnosed?
An accurate description of the history and symptoms of your condition will help our physiotherapist to reach appropriate assumptions. During the physical examination, your shoulder and elbow areas will be thoroughly evaluated. Once common symptom of UCL injuries is that it produces tenderness inside the elbow during palpitation. Stability and stress tests will be conducted for both elbow and shoulders. Once the diagnosis is complete, you will be provided with appropriate treatment options. Surgery is a rarity and conservative physiotherapy would be more than enough for most for the athletes to get back into mainstream sports.
Physiotherapy for ulnar collateral ligament injuries
We, at Happy Physio, begin with providing attention to the pain and swelling around the affected area. You may be served with some anti-inflammatory medications and appropriate rest would be advised. Icing is not very well recommended in this condition but ultrasound may be used to nullify inflammation. We will also look into your throw mechanics so that we can put in some valuable modifications. Suggestions about your posture, activity modifications, and strength will be made.
Based on your conditions, your physiotherapist will develop a daily exercise plan that will include stretching and strengthening exercises. Extra care would be taken not to put stress on the already damaged tissues. Exercises to increase flexibility and strength of your shoulder will follow. Plyometric strengthening, a method by which the nerves are forced to fire much faster, would be done for the entire arm. It improves muscle power and force and incidentally the speed of the throw will be regained.
Usually no additional treatment is required and the athletes can return to regular sports when their physiotherapist certify them to do so. However, at some unfortunate times, the conservative therapy would not reap the desired results and surgery would be required.
How different is physiotherapy after surgery?
The sports physiotherapy program after the surgery would mainly depend upon the type of surgical intervention that you have undergone. For example, if you had underwent an arthroscopic debridement your physiotherapy will start with minimal range of motion exercises at the earliest. Gradually, the pain and swelling will resolve and you will regain complete range of motion. We will then follow up with strengthening exercises. Once you start doing well in it, we will begin you on throwing exercises program. It may usually take up to three months before you can return to regular sporting activities.
Once a ligament reconstruction or repair is done, the joint will be immobilized for some days to accentuate the healing process. You will start range of motion exercises only after one to two weeks past surgery. Once you start making progress with range of motion, other exercises are also initiated. Once again, you will be able to return to active sports within no more than three months.
Don’t leave an injury untreated. Call us at (08) 9272 7359 today and let us help.