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Covering sports injuries from the perspective of a certified athletic trainer and backed by analytics.

Understanding Nicolas Batum’s Elbow Sprain

The first notable injury of the 2017-18 NBA season has occurred with Charlotte’s Nicolas Batum suffering a moderate elbow sprain. Yahoo Sports’ Shams Charania reported Batum is expected to miss eight-to-10 weeks after tearing the ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) in his left elbow during Wednesday’s preseason outing.

UCL tears are relatively uncommon in basketball but have been covered here at InStreetClothes.com during the 2013-14 season when Raptors forward Andrea Bargnani and Lakers guard Steve Blake both suffered the injury.

The UCL is a primary stabilizer of the inside area of the elbow. UCL injuries are synonymous with baseball as a significant number of MLB pitchers have required Tommy John surgery, the procedure utilized to reconstruct the ligament. The associated recovery for Tommy John is a long one for pitchers due to the high degree of stress placed on and through the elbow during the overhead throwing motion. Since this motion is rare in basketball, the injury and the surgery are also considered rarities in the NBA. Batum’s injury is just the seventh confirmed moderate UCL injury since the 2005-06 season.

The average number of missed games for confirmed UCL sprains in the NBA is about 21 games (roughly 6-to-7 weeks) but that includes several players that suffered partial tears. Blake missed 26 games with his injury while Bargnani missed 40.  Furthermore, Batum’s timeline should be extended if surgery is warranted.

The injury is an unfortunate setback for a Hornets team looking to return to the playoffs. However it doesn’t appear to be a season-ending ailment for Batum and precedent suggests Charlotte should have their play-making forward back by December.