The clinical diagnosis of thumb ulnar collateral ligament disruption has been based on joint angulation during valgus stress testing. This report describes a definitive method of distinguishing between complete and partial ulnar collateral ligament injuries by quantifying translation of the proximal phalanx on the metacarpal head during valgus stress testing.Methods:
Sixty-two cadaveric thumbs underwent standardized valgus stress testing under fluoroscopy with the ulnar collateral ligament intact, following an isolated release of the proper ulnar collateral ligament, and following a combined release of both the proper and the accessory ulnar collateral ligament (complete ulnar collateral ligament release). Following complete ulnar collateral ligament release, the final thirty-seven thumbs were also analyzed after the application of a valgus force sufficient to cause 45° of valgus angulation at the metacarpophalangeal joint to model more severe soft-tissue injury. Two independent reviewers measured coronal plane joint angulation (in degrees), ulnar joint line gap formation (in millimeters), and radial translation of the proximal phalanx on the metacarpal head (in millimeters) on digital fluoroscopic images that had been randomized.Results:
Coronal angulation across the stressed metacarpophalangeal joint progressively increased through the stages of the testing protocol: ulnar collateral ligament intact (average [and standard deviation], 20° ± 8.1°), release of the proper ulnar collateral ligament (average, 23° ± 8.3°), and complete ulnar collateral ligament release (average, 30° ± 8.9°) (p < 0.01 for each comparison). Similarly, gap formation increased from the measurement in the intact state (5.1 ± 1.3 mm), to that following proper ulnar collateral ligament release (5.7 ± 1.5 mm), to that following complete ulnar collateral ligament release (7.2 ± 1.5 mm) (p < 0.01 for each comparison). Radial translation of the proximal phalanx on the metacarpal head did not increase after isolated release of the proper ulnar collateral ligament (1.6 ± 0.8 mm vs. 1.5 ± 0.9 mm in the intact state). There was a significant increase in translation following release of the complete ulnar collateral ligament complex (3.0 ± 0.9 mm; p < 0.01) and an additional increase after forcible angulation of the joint to 45° (4.1 ± 0.9 mm; p < 0.01). Translation 2 mm greater than that in the stressed control was 100% specific for complete disruption of the ulnar collateral ligament complex.Conclusions:
While transection of the proper ulnar collateral ligament leads to an increase in metacarpophalangeal joint angulation and gapping on stress fluoroscopic evaluation, only release of both the accessory and the proper ulnar collateral ligament significantly increases translation of the proximal phalanx on the metacarpal head.Clinical Relevance:
A finding of phalangeal translation on a stress fluoroscopic image distinguishes partial from complete tears of the thumb ulnar collateral ligament.