Background: The ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) microstructural organization and collagen fiber realignment in response to load are unknown. Purpose/Hypothesis: The purpose was to describe the real-time microstructural collagen changes in the anterior bundle (AB) and posterior bundle (PB) of the UCL with tensile load. It was hypothesized that the UCL AB is stronger and stiffer with more highly aligned collagen during loading when compared with the UCL PB. Study Design: Descriptive laboratory study. Methods: The AB and PB from 34 fresh cadaveric specimens were longitudinally sectioned to allow uniform light passage for quantitative polarized light imaging. Specimens were secured to a tensile test machine and underwent cyclic preconditioning, a ramp-and-hold stress-relaxation test, and a quasi-static ramp to failure. A division-of-focal-plane polarization camera captured real-time pixelwise microstructural data of each sample during stress-relaxation and at the zero, transition, and linear points of the stress-strain curve. The SD of the angle of polarization determined the deviation of the average direction of collagen fibers in the tissue, while the average degree of linear polarization evaluated the strength of collagen alignment in those directions. Since the data were nonnormally distributed, the median ± interquartile range are presented. Results: The AB has larger elastic moduli than the PB (P <.0001) in the toe region (median, 2.73 MPa [interquartile range, 1.1-5.6 MPa] vs 0.65 MPa [0.44-1.5 MPa]) and the linear region (13.77 MPa [4.8-40.7 MPa] vs 1.96 MPa [0.58-9.3 MPa]). The AB demonstrated larger stress values, stronger collagen alignment, and more uniform collagen organization during stress-relaxation. PB collagen fibers were more disorganized than the AB during the zero (P =.046), transitional (P =.011), and linear (P =.007) regions of the stress-strain curve. Both UCL bundles exhibited very small changes in collagen alignment (SD of the angle of polarization) with load. Conclusion: The AB of the UCL is stiffer and stronger, with more strongly aligned and more uniformly oriented collagen fibers, than the PB. The small changes in collagen alignment indicate that the UCL response to load is due more to its static collagen organization than to dynamic changes in collagen alignment. Clinical Relevance: The UCL collagen organization may explain its susceptibility to injury with repetitive valgus loads.
- collagen alignment
- microstructural organization
- polarized light imaging
- ulnar collateral ligament
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Orthopedics and Sports Medicine
- Physical Therapy, Sports Therapy and Rehabilitation