Updated: 6/1/2020

Lateral Ulnar Collateral Ligament Injury (PLRI)

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  • A form of elbow instability characterized by posterolateral subluxation or dislocation of the radiocapitellar and ulnohumeral joints
    • usually associated with a traumatic elbow dislocation
    • caused by insufficiency of the lateral elbow collateral ligament complex
      • caused primarily by insufficiency of the LUCL
  • Pathophysiology
    • traumatic
      • most often discussed as a result of elbow dislocation 
        • combination of forearm supination, axial loading, valgus (posterolateral) stress, and elbow extension causes progressive failure of the lateral collateral ligament complex and anterior capsule, resulting posterolateral subluxation of the radial head and external rotation of the semilunar notch away from trochlea 
        • common extensor origin can also be avulsed
        • radioulnar articulation remains intact
    • iatrogenic injury
      • from arthroscopic or open procedures of the lateral elbow that go posterior to equator of radial head (e.g. debridement of lateral epicondylitis)
        • arthroscopic debridement should be kept anterior to equator of the radial head
    • chronic attenuation
      • secondary to chronic cubitus varus malunion 
        • abnormal lateral thrust stretches out the LUCL with time
        • abnormal triceps vector further stretches LUCL
  • Associated conditions
    • elbow dislocations 
  • Lateral collateral ligament complex consists of 4 components 
    • accessory lateral collateral ligament
    • annular ligament 
    • lateral radial collateral ligament (LCL)
    • lateral ulnar collateral ligament (LUCL)
      • LUCL is the primary stabilizer to varus & ER stress
        • origin
          • lateral humeral epicondyle
        • insertion
          • the tubercle of the supinator crest of the ulna
  • Symptoms
    • pain is the primary symptom
    • mechanical symptoms (clicking, catching, etc.) 
      • often with elbow extension and when pushing off from arm of chair
  • Physical exam
    • inspection and palpation
      • tenderness over LUCL
    • motion and stability
      • varus instability
    • provocative tests
      • lateral pivot-shift test    
        • patient lies supine with affected arm overhead; forearm is supinated and valgus stress is applied while bringing the elbow from full extension to 40 degrees of flexion
        • with increased flexion, triceps tension reduces the radial head
        • often more reliable on anesthetized patient
      • posterior drawer test
        • patient lies supine with affected arm overhead; forearm is supinated and the examiner's index finger is placed under the radial head and the thumb over it. 
        • application of a posterior force will cause posterior subluxation of the radial head
      • apprehension test
        • patient lies supine with affected arm extended overhead; forearm is supinated and valgus stress is applied while flexing the elbow
      • chair rise test 
      • table-top relocation test  
      • floor push-up test 
        • patient cannot do push-ups with forearm supinated
  • Radiographs
    • recommended views
      • AP and lateral views of elbow
    • findings
      • important to rule out associated fractures and confirm concentric reduction in setting of acute dislocation 
      • standard radiographs are often of little value in evaluating PLRI
        • fluoroscopic imaging during provocative testing (e.g. pivot-shift) may demonstrate radial head subluxation
  • MRI
    • indications
      • may not be helpful in the setting of recurrent instability and LUCL attenuation as visualizing ligament difficult due to oblique course
    • findings
      • can identify acute avulsion of LUCL in acute instability 
    • sensitivity and specificity
      • LUCL pathology identifed in 50% of patients
Varus Posteromedial Rotatory Instability (VPMRI)
Valgus Posterolateral Rotatory Instabiliy (VPLRI) 
Radial head
No radial head fracture
Radial head fracture
Coronoid fracture
>15% (anteromedial facet)
<15% (tip fracture)
Posterior band of MCL ruptured, anterior band intact
Anterior band of MCL ruptured
LCL complex (includes LUCL) avulsion
LCL complex (includes LUCL) avulsion
Physical exam
Valgus stress, moving valgus, milking maneuver Varus stress, chair rise, lateral pivot shift 
  • Nonoperative
    • acute reduction followed by immobilization at 90° flexion for 5-7 days 
      • indications
        • acute elbow dislocations
      • technique
        • following reduction assess post-reduction stability
        • place in posterior splint for 5-7 days, with elbow at 90 degrees of flexion and forearm appropriately positioned based on post-reduction stability
          • LCL disrupted, but MCL intact 
            • splint in full pronation (tightens lateral structures)
          • LCL + MCL disrupted
            • splint in neutral
          • will not splint in full supination (for MCL rupture only) as the LCL is always disrupted in PLRI
        • early active ROM following splint removal (+/- extension block)
          • full supination/pronation from 90° to full flexion
          • progress with increasing extension by 30° weekly, but with the forearm in full pronation; after 6 weeks full supination in extension allowed
    • bracing, extensor strengthening, activity modification w/ avoidance of gravity varus positions 
      • indications
        • mild, chronic PLRI
        • low-demand patients
  • Operative
    • open reduction, fracture fixation, LUCL repair
      • indications
        • osteochondral fragment or soft-tissue entrapment prevents concentric reduction
        • complex dislocation (associated fractures are present)
        • acute instability
          • open & arthroscopic techniques described
    • LUCL reconstruction w/ graft
      • indications
        • chronic PLRI 
  • Reconstruction of LUCL complex
    • approach
      • posterior mid-line
      • Kocher approach   
    • graft types
      • autograft or allograft tissue may be used
        • palmaris longus most common
        • gracilis and triceps fascia also utilized
    • graft configuration
      • tendon graft tied to itself over lateral column after placing through tunnel in supinator crest & then weaving through "Y" tunnel configuration in humerus
      • it is critical that the graft covers > posterior 25% of the radial head to create a sling
      • graft can be plicated to capsule to maintain position and capsule plicated to augment repair 
      • graft secured with arm in neutral rotation and 45° of flexion
    • graft fixation
      • graft may be "docked" on humerus with sutures exiting "Y" tunnels or on both humeral and ulnar sides with interference screws (or sutures tied over bone - overlay technique)  
    • coronoid fracture ORIF / anterior capsular laxity
      • large fragments should be fixed with screw from dorsal ulnar surface (aided by ACL type guide to improve accuracy
      • small fragments should be excised but a suture plication of the anterior capsule to the broken tip increases stability and can be placed with the aid of ACL type guide  
    • postoperative
      • protected from varus stress across the elbow and shoulder abduction post-operatively (locked hinge brace)
      • early range-of-motion encouraged (+/- extension block with progressive gain to full extension and supination by 6-8 weeks)
      • important to keep forearm in full pronation during ROM until after 6 weeks (as above)
  • Recurrent instability
    • 3-8% incidence
  • Infection
  • Cutaneous nerve injury
    • decreased risk with posterior mid-line approach
  • Decreased ROM

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(OBQ13.88) A 23-year-old male sustains a dislocation of his elbow that was successfully closed reduced in the emergency room. 3 months later, the patient presents with pain and a catching sensation in his elbow. On physical exam, he is noted to have a positive lateral pivot-shift test. Incompetence of which of the following ligaments in Figure A is most commonly associated with his condition? Review Topic | Tested Concept

QID: 4723




















L 2 B

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(OBQ11.244) A 24-year-old male sustains the right elbow injury shown in Figures A and B. He promptly undergoes operative irrigation and debridement, reduction, vascular bypass of the brachial artery, and hinged elbow fixator placement for 6 weeks. Three years later he complains of clicking and locking with elbow extension and difficulty performing arm triceps dips while attempting exercise. He is unable to perform a pushup. Which of the following reconstruction procedures is MOST appropriate? Review Topic | Tested Concept

QID: 3667

Elbow arthroscopy with extensor tendon insertion debridement




Lateral ulnar collateral ligament reconstruction with palmaris tendon graft




Radial collateral ligament reconstruction with palmaris tendon graft




Medial ulnar collateral ligament reconstruction with palmaris tendon graft woven in a figure-eight fashion (Tommy John procedure)




Medial collateral ligament reconstruction with palmaris tendon graft woven using Docking procedure



L 3 C

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(SAE07SM.70) A 45-year-old tennis player undergoes surgery for chronic lateral epicondylitis. After returning to play, he notes increasing lateral elbow pain with mechanical catching and locking. Examination shows positive supine posterolateral rotatory instability. What ligament has been injured? Review Topic | Tested Concept

QID: 8732





Anterior band of the medial collateral




Lateral orbicular




Lateral radial collateral




Lateral ulnar collateral



L 2 D

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