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Am J Sports Med. 2019 Apr;47(5):1117-1123. doi: 10.1177/0363546519831693. Epub 2019 Mar 21.

Variations in Blood Supply From Proximal to Distal in the Ulnar Collateral Ligament of the Elbow: A Qualitative Descriptive Cadaveric Study.

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The Steadman Clinic, Vail, Colorado, USA.
The Steadman Philippon Research Institute, Vail, Colorado, USA.
Summa Health Medical Group, Akron, Ohio, USA.
Rothman Institute at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA.



The vascular supply of the ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) is unknown. Previous studies reported varying success in return-to-play rates after nonoperative management of partial UCL tears and suggested a varying healing capacity as possibly related to the location of the UCL injury.


To analyze the macroscopic vascular anatomy of the UCL of the elbow.


Descriptive laboratory study.


Eighteen fresh-frozen male cadaveric elbows from 9 donors were sharply dissected 15 cm proximal to the medial epicondyle. Sixty milliliters of India ink was injected through the brachial artery of each elbow. Arms were then frozen at -10°C, radial side down, in 15° to 20° of elbow flexion. A band saw was used to section the frozen elbows into 5-mm coronal or sagittal sections. Sections were cleared for visualization with the modified Spalteholz technique. Images of the specimens were taken, and qualitative description of UCL vascularity was undertaken.


The authors consistently found a dense blood supply to the proximal UCL, while the distal UCL was hypovascular. They also observed a possible osseous contribution to the proximal UCL from the medial epicondyle in addition to an artery from the flexor/pronator musculature that consistently appeared to provide vascularity to the proximal UCL. The degree of vascular penetration from proximal to distal in the UCL ranged from 39% to 68% of the overall UCL length, with a 49% mean length of vascular penetration of the UCL.


This study found a difference in the vascular supply of the UCL. The proximal UCL was well vascularized, while the distal UCL was hypovascular. This difference in vascular supply may be a factor in the differential healing capacities of the UCL based on the location of injury.


An improved understanding of the macroscopic vascular supply of the UCL may aid in the clinical management of partial UCL tears and suggests an indication for these treatments with respect to location of UCL injuries.


blood supply; distal; overhead athlete; proximal; ulnar collateral ligament; vascularity


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