Ligaments of the Elbow
By Jessica Bruno OTR/L
Ligaments of the Elbow and their Role
The elbow is made up of connective tissue, which forms tough elastic bands that connect bone to bone, called ligaments. Ligaments play an important role in joint stabilization throughout our body. They are the bands that are flexible enough to allow movement but tight enough to keep the joint stable. When ligaments are intact, they provide the right equation for joint mobility and stability. They also provide support to muscles that surround joints.
Ligaments of the Elbow
Ligaments of the elbow provide stability to the joint capsule on each side. There is the lateral collateral complex (LCL), which includes the annular ligament, lateral ulnar collateral ligament (LUCL), and radial collateral ligament (RCL) on the lateral side of the elbow. The medial collateral (MCL) complex includes the ulnar/medial collateral ligament (UCL/MCL), composed of an anterior, posterior, and transverse bundle.
Lateral Collateral Complex (LCL)
The annular ligament crosses the radius bone, a forearm bone that originates at the elbow’s lateral side and ends on the wrist’s thumb side. The annular ligament keeps the radius stable during forearm rotation by encircling the radial head and forming a protective sling. The radial head rotates during forearm rotation and is located at the radius that articulates with the elbow. The annular ligament helps with stability during this range of motion and keeps the radius in contact with its surrounding bones.
The lateral ulnar collateral ligament (LUCL) plays a vital role in the elbow’s posterior lateral stability. It is the main stabilizer on the outside of the elbow. It originates on the lateral epicondyle and attaches to part of the ulna bone. The ulna bone runs parallel with the radius bone in the forearm. When ligaments are stretched or torn, it dislocates the elbow. The injury may or may not require surgery, depending on the severity.
The radial collateral ligament (RCL) attaches to the lateral epicondyle and part of the annular ligament. This ligament of the elbow keeps the elbow stable by preventing varus instability.
Medial Collateral Complex (MCL)
This complex comprises an anterior, posterior, and transverse bundle that originates at the medial epicondyle and joins the ulna to the humerus. The humerus is the upper bone of the arm above the elbow joint. This complex prevents valgus instability. The anterior band is stressed during elbow extension. The posterior band is stressed during elbow flexion. The transverse band joins the anterior and posterior bands. The anterior band is the most important stabilizer of valgus instability.
The elbow ligaments that make up the medial collateral complex are often injured in baseball players. Some of these players undergo a “Tommy John Surgery” or UCL reconstruction surgery. It is a common injury in throwers due to the repeated stress on the ligaments during a throwing motion. Injuries can range from different grades of sprains to tears. Depending on the severity of the injury, treatment can include rest, physical or occupational therapy, anti-inflammatory medications, and sometimes surgery with rehabilitation afterward.
Ligaments of the elbow play a vital role in providing stability to the elbow joint. However, if an injury occurs to the ligament, the mechanics of the elbow will change. In severe injuries or long-standing chronic injuries, surgical intervention can help regain normal function. If you think you have an injury to one of the elbow ligaments, you can make an upper extremity specialist appointment.
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Image of Book An Appointment with a JOI Physician ButtonBy Jessica Bruno OTR/L