Background: Management of grade III injuries of the radial collateral ligament (RCL) of the thumb is controversial. These injuries are often treated with early surgery. However, early surgery may not be practical for the professional athlete. We report on the outcome of delayed primary repair of chronic RCL injuries without the use of tendon grafts or tendon transfers. Methods: Twelve elite professional athletes with 15 soft tissue RCL injuries who underwent delayed surgery (greater than 6 weeks) were included in this study. Athletes were managed with splinting and ongoing play during the sporting season, and underwent surgery at the conclusion of the season. Mean duration from injury to surgery was 5 months. Mean follow-up was 4.2 years after surgery. Patient-report outcome measures including pain, satisfaction rating, and disability of the arm, shoulder and hand (DASH) scores were collected. Examination findings including range of motion, laxity, and grip and pinch strength were also measured. Return-to-play data were collected for all athletes. Results: The RCL was able to be primarily repaired with suture anchors in all cases. All twelve patients were able to return to competitive play at the same pre-injury professional level. Post-operative joint function such as range of motion and laxity were comparable to the unaffected contralateral side, as were grip and lateral pinch strengths. Tip-pinch strength is lower compared to the unaffected side, but is comparable to age and sex-matched reference group. Conclusions: Delayed primary repair of the RCL is a viable option and results in satisfactory long-term outcomes. This option may be more preferable to the professional athlete who wishes to avoid surgery during the sporting season.
Keywords: Ligament injury; Ligament repair; Professional athletes; Radial collateral ligament.