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Clin J Sport Med. 2013 Jul;23(4):247-54. doi: 10.1097/JSM.0b013e318289c6ff.

Outcomes after injury to the thumb ulnar collateral ligament--a systematic review.

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The Ohio State University Hand and Upper Extremity Center, Columbus, OH, USA.



Rupture of the ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) is a frequent injury of the hand. When untreated, this injury may lead to decreased pinch strength, pain, instability, and osteoarthritis. There is currently no consensus on treatment of acute or chronic UCL injuries. Our primary purpose was to compare nonoperative treatment with surgical repair and surgical reconstruction of thumb UCL injuries. A secondary purpose was to compare graft choice and surgical technique for reconstruction.


A systematic review of multiple medical databases was performed using PRISMA (Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses) guidelines with specific inclusion and exclusion criteria. Clinical outcome studies after nonoperative or operative treatment of thumb UCL injuries, with a minimum of 2 years mean follow-up, were included. Pain, range of motion, key-pinch strength, and stability testing were used as outcome measures.


Fourteen articles were included and analyzed (293 thumbs). All but 2 were level IV evidence. Mean Quality Appraisal Tool score was 13.1 (55% overall rating study methodological quality). Thirty-two thumbs were treated nonoperatively and 261 operatively. Mean subject age was 33.9 years. There were 200 acute injuries and 93 chronic injuries. Mean study follow-up was 42.8 months. Nonoperative treatment often failed, necessitating surgery. Acute UCL repair and autograft UCL reconstruction for chronic injury led to excellent clinical outcomes, without a significant difference between the 2 groups. After significant delay to treatment or even failed nonoperative treatment, excellent clinical outcomes can be achieved, without a difference between initially treating the injury surgically. Complications after surgery were rare.


This review has demonstrated excellent clinical outcomes after surgical treatment of both acute and chronic UCL injury, without any significant difference between repair and reconstruction for acute and chronic injury, respectively.

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