What are elbow Ligament Injuries?
Elbow ligament injuries are injuries to the tough elastic tissues that connect the bones of the elbow joint to each other. These ligaments stabilize the elbow while allowing an appropriate joint range of motion to occur. An acute or chronic injury to the elbow ligament can result in joint laxity, pain, and loss of elbow function.
Anatomy of the Elbow
The elbow is a hinge joint in the arm made up of three bones namely, the humerus, ulna, and radius. The humerus forms the upper portion of the elbow, while the radius and ulna together form the lower portion of the elbow. The elbow is mostly stabilized by the lateral ulnar collateral ligament and medial ulnar collateral ligament which together provide strength and stability for various arm movements.
Causes of Elbow Ligament Injuries
The various causes of elbow ligament injuries mainly fall under two categories:
- Trauma-related: These causes may generally result in lateral collateral ligament injuries, including fracture or dislocation due to the forced twisting or hyperextension of the elbow, such as during a fall on an outstretched hand.
- Injuries due to overuse: Often seen in overhead throwing athletes or gymnasts. Usually these are injuries to the medial ulnar collateral ligament.
Symptoms of Elbow Ligament Injuries
The common symptoms associated with elbow ligament injuries include:
- Presence of swelling near the elbow
- Elbow pain
- Pain during certain wrist movements
- Swelling along the length of the arm
- Visible instability in the elbow joint
Diagnosis of Elbow Ligament Injuries
Your doctor will review your symptoms, medical history, and perform a thorough physical examination to check for a range of motion, stability, and strength of the joint. Additional diagnostic tests may be ordered that include X-rays, MRI, and CT scans.
Treatment for Elbow Ligament Injuries
Surgical or non-surgical modalities may be used for the treatment of elbow ligament injuries depending on the type and severity of the injury.
Non-surgical methods include:
- Allowing the ligaments time to heal by avoiding physical activities that aggravate symptoms and resting the joint.
- Applying an ice pack to the affected area regularly for short periods of time to reduce inflammation.
- Using splints, braces or casts to stabilize the arm to reduce stress on the injured tissue.
- Performing physical therapy strengthening exercises to improve muscle tone around the elbow, helping to share some of the load of stabilizing the joint with the injured ligaments.
Surgical methods include:
- Medial collateral ligament reconstruction surgery (“Tommy John procedure”): This is a surgical procedure which helps restore elbow stability following a complete tear or rupture to the ligament on the inside of the elbow that is generally caused by repetitive activity.
- Lateral collateral ligament reconstruction surgery: This surgery is done to repair a torn or ruptured ligament on the outside of the elbow which usually occurs due to fracture or dislocation of the elbow. An open reduction and internal fixation of the elbow may be required when performing this surgery due to the decreased structural stability of the joint as a result of the fracture or dislocation.