BACKGROUND: The ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) is a commonly injured elbow stabilizer during throwing. Shear wave elastography (SWE) is a technique that may reveal structural changes in the UCL that are indicative of ligament health and injury risk. The purpose of this study was to assess preseason and inseason shear wave velocity (SWV) in the UCL of collegiate pitchers and to asses repeatability of this measurement technique in healthy volunteers.
METHODS: Seventeen collegiate baseball pitchers and 11 sex-matched volunteers were recruited. Two-dimensional SWE of the UCL was performed by a single radiologist. In pitchers, SWV was measured at the proximal, midsubstance, and distal UCL for dominant and nondominant elbows preseason, midseason, and postseason, and Kerlan-Jobe Orthopaedic Clinic (KJOC) Shoulder and Elbow questionnaire scores were recorded. In volunteers, SWV was measured at UCL midsubstance in dominant elbows at 3 separate occasions over 1 week. An independent samples t-test was used to compare preseason midsubstance measures between pitchers and the healthy volunteers. A mixed-model analysis of covariance (covaried on preseason measures) was used to compare SWV measures at the preseason, midseason, and postseason time points. A similar generalized linear model for nonparametric data was used to compare KJOC scores. Type-I error was set at P < .05.
RESULTS: Mean preseason midsubstance dominant arm UCL SWV did not significantly differ between the pitchers (5.40 ± 1.65 m/s) compared to the healthy volunteers (4.35 ± 1.45 m/s). For inseason measures among the pitchers, a decrease in midsubstance (-1.17 ± 0.99 m/s, P = .021) and proximal (-1.55 ± 0.91 m/s, P = .001) SWV was observed at midseason compared to preseason. The proximal measure was also observed to be significantly lower than the nondominant arm (-1.97 ± 0.95 m/s, P < .001). Proximal SWV remained reduced relative to the preseason and the postseason mark (-1.13 ± 0.91 m/s, P = .015). KJOC scores decreased at midseason compared to preseason ( P = .003) but then increased to a similar preseason value at the postseason measurement (preseason = 92 ± 3, midseason = 87 ± 3, postseason = 91 ± 3). The repeatability coefficient of SWE in the volunteer cohort was 1.98 m/s.
CONCLUSION: Decreased SWV in the proximal and midsubstance of the dominant arm UCL at midseason suggests structural changes indicative of increasing laxity or 'softening' of the UCL. Associated decline in KJOC scores suggests that these changes are associated with functional decline. Future studies with more frequent sampling would be invaluable to further explore this observation and its significance for predicting and managing UCL injury risk.
- Basic science study
- Shear wave elastography (SWE)
- Shear wave velocity (SWV)
- Ulnar collateral ligament (UCL)
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Orthopedics and Sports Medicine