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Causes Of Ulnar Collateral Ligament Injuries

The ulnar collateral ligament is a strong band of tissue that resides in the inner area of your elbow. It connects the bone of the upper arm (humerus) and the bone of the forearm (ulna). The UCL’s main function is to keep your elbow joint stable and your bones aligned, especially during overhead arm movements and throwing motions. 

The UCL can become injured or overstretched due to tearing or excessive valgus stress (when the forearm is pulled outwards at the elbow joint). When this happens, the ligament might become loose and unable to keep the bone in place, thus leading to a feeling of instability, weaker grip, and reduced mobility. Commonly, UCL injuries are caused by overuse, repetitive stress, or trauma – let’s look at these causes in detail below. 

Overuse And Repetitive Stress

Overuse is the most common cause of UCL damage. Some activities that might cause repetitive

 stress to the UCL ligament in the elbow include sports such as javelin and baseball. 

The prevalence of UCL injuries is higher in baseball pitchers under the age of 15, with around 26-29% of young baseball players dealing with elbow pain. 


Although less likely, UCL damage can be caused by a traumatic injury. If you knock your elbow or land on your outstretched arm, the trauma can result in an elbow dislocation or fracture that can injure the UCL. In a study conducted on throwing and contact collegiate athletes, over 76% of UCL injuries were a result of contact trauma.



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Symptoms Of UCL Injuries

UCL damage comes in three grades, depending on the severity of the injury. These are:

  • Grade 1: Mild stretching and microdamage of the ligament
  • Grade 2: Partial tearing of the ligament
  • Grade 3: Complete tearing of the ligament, which might require surgery

In milder cases, these injuries will rarely affect your ability to lead a normal life. However, in the case of a ruptured or completely torn ligament, you might experience total elbow instability. 

Nonetheless, in UCL injury, no matter how severe, can significantly impact your sports performance, delay your Return To Play (RTP), and cause chronic pain. 

Here are some of the symptoms associated with UCL damage:

Pain That Intensifies With Elbow Movements

A telltale sign of UCL damage is pain radiating from the elbow, which often intensifies after a throwing, overhead movements, or quickly moving your arm overhead and forward. Hearing a sudden “pop” and feeling intense pain around the elbow at the time of injury is also likely in the event of a severe ligament injury, as you’ll experience the sound of tearing tissue. 

Numbness And Tingling

If the UCL damage or inflammation affects the nearby ulnar nerve, you might experience numbness or a tingling sensation, especially in your fourth and fifth digits (pinky and ring fingers). This happens because of how the nerves are distributed in the arm, and a pinched or pressured ulnar nerve will prevent signals coming from receptors in the hands and fingers from reaching the brain. 

Unstable Elbow Joint 

A torn or overstretched UCL will fail in its role of keeping the elbow bones stable and aligned, especially during throwing motions. This can cause a sensation of instability in the elbow and an inability to throw. 

Loss Of Grip and Pinch Strength

UCL injuries can affect nearby structures, such as sensory and motor nerves, and compromise their ability to function correctly. Because of how these nerves control the movements in the hand, you might experience a loss of grip and pinch strength.

Regenerative Treatment Options For UCL Tear

The rising prevalence of UCL injuries has led to an increase in elbow ligament reconstruction surgeries, known as Tommy John Surgeries. These surgical operations are invasive and come with long periods of downtime and rehabilitation, which can delay your Return to Play by months or years. 

However, surgery isn’t always the only – or best! – option to treat UCL injuries. With a combination of bone marrow concentrate and platelet-rich plasma injections, you can take advantage of your body’s ability to heal itself and kick-start your recovery process. 

After a close assessment of your UCL injury, a specialist will provide a personalized treatment program that combines the following modalities:

Concentrated PRP for UCL Tears

Platelet-rich plasma (PRP) refers to autologous blood samples that have been processed to have platelet concentrations that are 10-40 times higher than baseline levels using a laboratory setting. The use of PRP in regenerative medicine has received significant interest, due to its ability to deliver high concentrations of growth factors precisely and non-invasively to an area in need.

PRP procedures involve injecting the body’s own healing factors (platelets) into the injured tissue using image guidance with fluoroscopy and MSK ultrasound. This procedure can be used to treat a variety of orthopedic conditions, including joint instability, minor arthritis, ligament, and tendon injuries, and strains.

More than 30 randomized controlled trials have been carried out on the effectiveness of PRP to support the body’s ability to heal naturally by stimulating the stem cells within the targeted area.

Stem Cell Injections for UCL using Bone Marrow Concentrate (containing Stem Cells)

Stem cells are an essential component of the human body and play an important role in the repair of injured bones, ligaments, tendons, and other tissues. However, when we age or suffer an injury, the body may become unable to deliver enough stem cells to the area in need.

To help with this, bone marrow concentrate procedures at Orthagenex use imaging guidance to deliver concentrated bone marrow containing stem cells to the area in need according to the Orthagenex procedure protocol. This encourages the body’s inherent ability to heal itself by replenishing cell population in the injured area.

In practice, bone marrow concentrate procedures are carried out by cannulating the bone near the pelvis with a trocar, a sharp-tipped device. This provides a narrow tunnel that can be used to collect samples of the bone marrow’s liquid component, which is rich in stem cells.

BMC procedures can assist patients in improving their orthopedic health and mobility without the lengthy and painful rehabilitation periods associated with surgery.

Skip the Surgery. Harness Your Own Stem Cells with Stem Cell Therapy.

The rate of UCL injuries is climbing, especially due to more accurate diagnostic tools and techniques. But, with them, the number of ligament reconstruction surgeries performed each year is also surging.

Luckily, thanks to today’s advances in regenerative medicine, you no longer need to choose between enduring an extensive rehabilitation period or giving up on your career as an athlete. Find out more about regenerative treatments and take the first step towards improving your UCL health today.

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