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      Ulnar Collateral Ligament Reconstruction Versus Repair With Internal Bracing: Comparison of Cyclic Fatigue Mechanics

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          Ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) injuries have increased significantly in recent years, and reconstruction has become the preferred treatment for UCL injury over ligament repair. In a recent study, UCL repair with internal bracing demonstrated significantly greater resistance to gap formation in biomechanical tests, even at low cycles of valgus loading.


          The purpose of this study was to compare the fatigue and failure mechanics of traditional UCL reconstruction with UCL repair and internal bracing. We hypothesized that repaired specimens would have less gap formation, closer return to native gap formation, and greater maximum torque to failure versus traditionally reconstructed specimens.

          Study Design:

          Controlled laboratory study.


          Ten matched pairs of cadaveric elbows were positioned at 90° of flexion and the native UCL subjected to 500 cycles of subfailure valgus loading. A simulated tear was created, and the 10 cycles were repeated. Each pair of specimens was next given repair with internal bracing on 1 side and a modified Jobe reconstruction on the contralateral side, followed by 100 manual cycles of flexion-extension, 500 cycles of valgus rotation, and, finally, rotation to failure.


          The specimens that received the repair unexpectedly experienced significantly less gapping in the torn state than did those in the reconstruction group. At the 10th cycle, repaired UCL injuries had significantly less gap formation than the reconstructed UCLs. At the 100th and 500th cycles, repaired UCL injuries continued to experience significantly less gap formation as compared with the reconstructed injuries.


          When compared with the gold standard reconstruction technique, UCL repair with internal bracing is more resistant to gap formation under fatigue loading. However, the unexpected early difference between the torn states may have confounded this finding. Time-zero failure properties of this repair technique are on par with those of traditional reconstruction, even after 500 cycles of valgus loading.

          Clinical Relevance:

          UCL reconstruction has become a common procedure among adolescent and elite-level throwers. Recent data suggest that UCL repair may be a viable option for younger athletes with acute proximal or distal UCL tears, allowing a faster return to play.

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          Most cited references 24

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          Kinetics of baseball pitching with implications about injury mechanisms.

          Elbow and shoulder kinetics for 26 highly skilled, healthy adult pitchers were calculated using high-speed motion analysis. Two critical instants were 1) shortly before the arm reached maximum external rotation, when 67 N-m of shoulder internal rotation torque and 64 N-m of elbow varus torque were generated, and 2) shortly after ball release, when 1090 N of shoulder compressive force was produced. Inability to generate sufficient elbow varus torque may result in medial tension, lateral compression, or posteromedial impingement injury. At the glenohumeral joint, compressive force, joint laxity, and 380 N of anterior force during arm cocking can lead to anterior glenoid labral tear. Rapid internal rotation in combination with these forces can produce a grinding injury factor on the labrum. After ball release, 400 N of posterior force, 1090 N of compressive force, and 97 N-m of horizontal abduction torque are generated at the shoulder; contribution of rotator cuff muscles in generating these loads may result in cuff tensile failure. Horizontal adduction, internal rotation, and superior translation of the abducted humerus may cause subacromial impingement. Tension in the biceps tendon, due to muscle contraction for both elbow flexion torque and shoulder compressive force, may tear the anterosuperior labrum.
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            Reconstruction of the ulnar collateral ligament in athletes.

            Reconstruction of the ulnar collateral ligament using a free tendon graft was performed on sixteen athletes. All participated in sports that involved throwing (mostly professional baseball), and all had valgus instability of the elbow. After reconstruction and rehabilitation, ten of the sixteen patients returned to their previous level of participation in sports, one returned to a lower level of participation, and five retired from professional athletics. Despite precautions, there was a high incidence of complications related to the ulnar nerve. Two patients had postoperative ulnar neuropathy (one late and one early) that required a secondary operation, but they eventually recovered completely. Three others reported some transient postoperative hypoesthesia along the ulnar aspect of the forearm that resolved after a few weeks or months.
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              Outcome of ulnar collateral ligament reconstruction of the elbow in 1281 athletes: Results in 743 athletes with minimum 2-year follow-up.

              The anterior bundle of the ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) is the primary anatomical structure providing elbow stability in overhead sports, particularly baseball. Injury to the UCL in overhead athletes often leads to symptomatic valgus instability that requires surgical treatment. Ulnar collateral ligament reconstruction with a free tendon graft, known as Tommy John surgery, will allow return to the same competitive level of sports participation in the majority of athletes. Case series; Level of evidence, 4. Ulnar collateral reconstruction (1266) or repair (15) was performed in 1281 patients over a 19-year period (1988-2006) using a modification of the Jobe technique. Data were collected prospectively and patients were surveyed retrospectively with a telephone questionnaire to determine outcomes and return to performance at a minimum of 2 years after surgery. Nine hundred forty-two patients were available for a minimum 2-year follow-up (average, 38.4 months; range, 24-130 months). Seven hundred forty-three patients (79%) were contacted for follow-up evaluation and/or completed a questionnaire at an average of 37 months postoperatively. Six hundred seventeen patients (83%) returned to the previous level of competition or higher, including 610 (83%) after reconstruction. The average time from surgery to the initiation of throwing was 4.4 months (range, 2.8-12 months) and the average time to full competition was 11.6 months (range, 3-72 months) after reconstruction. Complications occurred in 148 patients (20%), including 16% considered minor and 4% considered major. Ulnar collateral ligament reconstruction with subcutaneous ulnar nerve transposition was found to be effective in correcting valgus elbow instability in the overhead athlete and allowed most athletes (83%) to return to previous or higher level of competition in less than 1 year.

                Author and article information

                Orthop J Sports Med
                Orthop J Sports Med
                Orthopaedic Journal of Sports Medicine
                SAGE Publications (Sage CA: Los Angeles, CA )
                16 February 2018
                February 2018
                : 6
                : 2
                [* ]American Sports Medicine Institute, Birmingham, Alabama, USA.
                Investigation performed at the American Sports Medicine Institute, Birmingham, Alabama, USA
                Author notes
                []David P. Beason, MS, 833 St Vincent’s Drive, Suite 205, Birmingham, AL 35205, USA (email: DavidB@ 123456asmi.org ).
                © The Author(s) 2018

                This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 License ( http://www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/) which permits non-commercial use, reproduction and distribution of the work as published without adaptation or alteration, without further permission provided the original work is attributed as specified on the SAGE and Open Access pages ( https://us.sagepub.com/en-us/nam/open-access-at-sage).

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