WHAT IS A TEAR OF THE MEDIAL COLLATERAL LIGAMENT (MCL)?
This ligament tendon in the elbow, the MCL, is also known as the ulnar collateral ligament, or UCL. It is most important for athletes involved in overhand sports such as baseball (especially pitchers), javelin, basketball, and volleyball. It stabilizes the inner aspect of the elbow (body side of the elbow “pit”) as a pitcher accelerates through his pitching motion. Pitchers, sometimes throwing at velocities of more than 100 mph, put tremendous force on their arms and elbows. The tear can be caused by a dramatic event, if the pitcher is not warm, or if his mechanics are slightly off. The force on the elbow is so great that it tears the ligament. In Smoltz’s case, it was more likely a gradual weakening of the ligament that led to the tear. These repetitive strains of the ligament stretch it out, and gradually the pitcher will feel looseness in the elbow. An athlete with the tear would describe a sharp searing pain in the elbow and may feel a pop or crack the moment that the ligament tear