Anatomical dissection and biomechanical testing were used to study twenty-eight cadaveric elbows in order to determine the role of the medial collateral ligament under valgus loading. The medial collateral ligament was composed of anterior, posterior, and occasionally transverse bundles. The anterior bundle was, in turn, composed of anterior and posterior bands that tightened in reciprocal fashion as the elbow was flexed and extended. Sequential cutting of the ligament was performed while rotation caused by valgus torque was measured. The anterior band of the anterior bundle was the primary restraint to valgus rotation at 30, 60, and 90 degrees of flexion and was a co-primary restraint at 120 degrees of flexion. The posterior band of the anterior bundle was a co-primary restraint at 120 degrees of flexion and a secondary restraint at 30 and 90 degrees of flexion. The posterior bundle was a secondary restraint at 30 degrees only. The reciprocal anterior and posterior bands have distinct biomechanical roles and theoretically may be injured separately. The anterior band was more vulnerable to valgus overload when the elbow was extended, whereas the posterior band was more vulnerable when the elbow was flexed. The posterior bundle was not vulnerable to valgus overload unless the anterior bundle was completely disrupted. The intact elbows rotated a mean of 3.6 degrees between the neutral position and the two-newton-meter valgus torque position. Cutting of the entire anterior bundle caused an additional 3.2 degrees of rotation at 90 degrees of flexion, where the effect was greatest.
Clinical relevance: Physical findings in a patient who has an injury of the anterior bundle may be subtle, and an examination should be performed with the elbow in 90 degrees of flexion for greatest sensitivity. As the anterior bundle is the major restraint to valgus rotation, reconstructive procedures should focus on anatomical reproduction of that structure. Parallel limbs of tendon graft placed from the inferior aspect of the medial epicondyle to the area of the sublimis tubercle will simulate the reciprocal bands of the anterior bundle. Temporary immobilization with the elbow in flexion may relax the critically important anterior band of the reconstruction during healing.