Tennis player with an injured elbow

As most of us know from everyday bumps, elbow injuries can be unusually painful. UCL (ulnar collateral ligament) injuries are no exception. UCL tears are common sports injuries, especially among baseball pitchers, and may take a long time to heal, even with effective medical treatment. Severe UCL injuries may take nine months or longer. Generally speaking, slow, progressive rehab leads to the most successful outcomes. 

At Long Island Spine Rehabilitation Medicine, our physiatrists can often accelerate nonsurgical healing by combining complementary treatments like acupuncture, with more traditional ones like corticosteroid injections. If you are dealing with the pain and dysfunction of an elbow injury, contact any of our five Long Island offices to receive an accurate diagnosis and find out more about our wide range of treatment options.

What Is the UCL?

The UCL is the ulnar collateral ligament, located on the inside of the elbow. It runs from the humerus, the upper arm bone, to the ulna, one of the smaller bones of the forearm. Like all ligaments, the UCL attaches bones to facilitate movement. When the UCL is torn, the bones are no longer tethered properly and move too much, causing pain and instability.

What Causes UCL Injuries?

While UCL tears may sometimes result from traumatic injury, they may also develop over a while due to repetitive stress. In such cases, instead of sudden sharp pain, patients usually experience a gradual elbow pain that worsens over time. 

UCL injuries occur from overhead arm use, such as throwing. It is always important to treat such injuries quickly to prevent worse damage, especially in children who are still growing.

Causes of UCL injuries include:

  • Elbow dislocation, common in gymnastics, wrestling, and falls from a height
  • Gradual overstretching of the ligament 
  • Degeneration from repeated forceful overhead throwing (e.g. baseball pitches)
  • Falling on an outstretched arm

No matter what the cause of your suspected UCL injury is, consult with one of our doctors as soon as possible so we can alleviate your pain, restore your arm to full mobility, and prevent your condition from worsening.

Symptoms

Signs that you may have suffered a UCL injury include:

  • Popping noise along the inside of your elbow followed by the inability to continue throwing
  • Pain and tenderness on the inside of the elbow after activity that involves overhead movement
  • Stiffness in the elbow
  • Difficulty straightening your arm
  • Pain when extending your arm
  • Tingling or numbness in your pinky and ring fingers
  • Looseness and instability of your elbow joint
  • Weakness and/or clumsiness when gripping
  • Diminished strength or speed when throwing

Interestingly, a UCL injury may not affect routine activities since it does not typically make lifting difficult. You may only have symptoms when engaging in the activity that led to the problem.

Grades of UCL Injuries

There are three grades of UCL sprain injuries:

  • Grade 1: UCL ligament is stretched but not torn
  • Grade 2: UCL ligament is stretched and partially torn
  • Grade 3: UCL ligament is completely torn

Diagnosis

At Long Island Spine Rehabilitation Medicine, we have advanced diagnostic treatment on the premises. Before we use any of it, however, one of our experienced physiatrists will administer a physical examination and a valgus stress test. 

A valgus stress test is a careful manipulation of the arm at the elbow done by one of our trained professionals. This test helps to determine the level of instability in your elbow. Positive findings may show abnormal gapping at the medial joint and evidence of pain upon certain movements of the ulnar collateral ligament.

We may also take X-rays, an MRI scan, or use an ultrasound to see another type of image of your elbow joint and its damage.

Nonsurgical UCL Treatments We Offer

In addition to the usual home remedies you have probably already tried — rest, ice packs, compression bandages, and elevation (a combination known as RICE), along with painkillers like NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) — we will use a combination of familiar and innovative treatments known to hasten healing, including:

  • Platelet-Rich Plasma (PRP) injections to speed healing 
  • Corticosteroid/analgesic injections to relieve pain and inflammation 
  • PEMF (Pulsed Electromagnetic Field) technology to increase blood flow to your damaged cells 
  • Acupuncture to relieve pain and reduce inflammation
  • Physical therapy, once the inflammation has decreased, to strengthen the arm muscles around your elbow and improve your range of motion 

Contact Our Experienced Physiatrists Today to Address Your UCL Injury

At Long Island Spine Rehabilitation Medicine, our doctors have a holistic approach to healing. We use multiple therapeutic methods to bring you faster pain relief and restored mobility. 

We believe in the importance of the body-mind connection, and we will always include you in deciding which treatments will be best in terms of your medical history and your personal preferences. Contact us now to make an appointment with one of our talented, compassionate practitioners.