The Role of Ultrasound in the Evaluation of Elbow Medial Ulnar Collateral Ligament Injuries in Throwing Athletes

Brian J. Sutterer, Brennan J. Boettcher, Jeffrey M. Payne, Christopher L. Camp, Jacob L. Sellon

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Purpose of Review: Although ultrasound (US) imaging is commonly used to evaluate the elbow medial ulnar collateral ligament (mUCL) in throwing athletes, significant technical heterogeneity exists in the published literature and in practice. This has resulted in variable and often ambiguous US diagnostic criteria for mUCL injury. This review summarizes the literature on sonographic evaluation of the mUCL and outlines recommendations for consistent descriptive terminology, as well as future clinical and research applications. Recent Findings: Both acute and chronic throwing loads in overhead athletes cause the mUCL to become thicker and more lax on stress testing, and these changes tend to revert after a period of prolonged rest. Stress US (SUS) can aid in the diagnosis of mUCL tears and may help identify athletes at risk of mUCL injury. Variability exists in terminology, elbow flexion angle, amount of stress applied, and technique of stress testing. Recent studies have suggested an injured elbow stress delta (SD—change in ulnohumeral joint (UHJ) space with valgus stress) of 2.4 mm and a stress delta difference (SDD—side-side difference in SD) of 1 mm each denote abnormal UHJ laxity due to mUCL injury. Summary: US imaging is a powerful and widely accessible tool in the evaluation elbow mUCL injuries. Sonologists should consider how their US techniques compare with published methods and use caution when applying diagnostic criteria outside of those circumstances. Currently, an SD of 2.4 mm and an SDD of 1 mm provide the best diagnostic accuracy for mUCL tears requiring surgery. Finally, preliminary work suggests that shear wave elastography may be helpful in evaluating the biomechanical properties of the mUCL, but additional research is needed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)535-546
Number of pages12
JournalCurrent Reviews in Musculoskeletal Medicine
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 2022


  • Medial ulnar collateral ligament
  • Throwing athletes
  • Ulnar collateral ligament
  • Ultrasound

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Orthopedics and Sports Medicine


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