A ligament is a strong band of tissue that connects bone to bone. The medial collateral ligament of the elbow joint lies on the inside (medial side) of the elbow. A ligament sprain can be classified as below depending on the severity of the sprain:
• grade I sprain: pain with minimal damage to the ligaments
• grade II sprain: more ligament damage and mild looseness of the joint
• grade III sprain: complete tearing of the ligament and the joint is very loose or unstable.
The medial collateral ligament can be damaged with twisting of the elbow that might occur with dislocations or when a force is applied to the outside of the elbow.
Symptoms of Medial Collateral Ligament sprain/tear
• Localized tenderness on the inside of the elbow
• Depending on the grade of the strain there may be instability of the elbow
• Swelling of the elbow joint
• Limitation of movement
Diagnosis and treatment
The management will depend on the severity of the sprain. If a complete tear has occurred surgical repair will be required followed by physiotherapy. If the tear is incomplete or there is just a strain to the ligament then physiotherapy is the course of management. In the initial stages treatment will aim to reduce pain and inflammation. This may include the use of ice, electrotherapeutic modalities and gentle soft tissue techniques. It is also important to at this time rest the elbow to allow healing to occur. If there has been an incomplete tear a brace may be worn for a period of time to protect the ligament and prevent further stress on the ligament.
Once the initial pain and inflammation have settled treatment will move onto focussing on regaining full range of motion and strength of the elbow joint. Your physiotherapist will also be involved in your gradual return to sport as well as assisting you in correction of any predisposing factors (e.g. a fault technique for sport).