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Definition

What is skier’s thumb?

Skier’s thumb describes an injury of the soft tissue that connects the bones of your thumb together. In medical terms, this soft tissue is called a ligament.

In severe cases, with complete tearing of the ligament, this injury must be surgically repaired. The ultimate stability of the ligament is important because of its contribution to the grasping function of the thumb.

How common is skier’s thumb?

Skier’s thumb accounts for a significant number of skiing injuries. It makes up 8-10% of all skiing accidents. It can be managed by reducing your risk factors. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.

Symptoms

What are the symptoms of skier’s thumb?

The common symptoms of skier’s thumb are:

  • Pain at the base of the thumb in the web space between thumb and index finger
  • Swelling of your thumb
  • Inability to grasp or weakness of grasp between your thumb and index finger
  • Tenderness to the touch along the index finger side of your thumb
  • Blue or black discoloration of the skin over the thumb
  • Thumb pain that worsens with movement in any or all directions
  • Pain in the wrist (which may be referred pain from your thumb)

There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.

When should I see my doctor?

If you have any signs or symptoms listed above or have any questions, please consult with your doctor. Everyone’s body acts differently. It is always best to discuss with your doctor what is best for your situation.

Causes

What causes skier’s thumb?

Skiing accidents are the most common causes of damage to the ligament that cause the injury known as skier’s thumb.

A fall on an outstretched hand with a ski pole in the palm of your hand creates the force necessary to stress the thumb and stretch or tear the ligament. A simple fall on an outstretched hand with an empty palm usually does not create this same force. However, your thumb can also be injured if it jams into packed snow at high velocity.

Another less common cause of this injury is an automobile crash when the driver has the thumb alone draped over the steering wheel. Any injury in which the thumb is abnormally bent backward or to the side can cause skier’s thumb.

Risk factors

What increases my risk for skier’s thumb?

Please discuss with your doctor for further information.

Diagnosis & treatment

The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.

How is skier’s thumb diagnosed?

The physician will first make sure you have no other limb-threatening injuries and then evaluate your thumb in more detail.

The doctor will ask you how the injury happened. Be prepared to answer these questions:

  • At what time did your injury take place?
  • What was the exact positioning of your hand and thumb during the injury?
  • How soon after the injury did the pain and swelling begin?
  • Did it feel as if your thumb was stressed beyond its normal range of motion?

The doctor will also ask about your past medical history. Be prepared to answer these questions:

  • Have you ever suffered from a similar injury before?
  • Have you ever had any type of surgery in your hand or wrist?
  • Are you allergic to any pain medications?
  • Have you ever fractured any bones in your wrist or hand?
  • Are you right-handed or left-handed?
  • What is your primary occupation?

The doctor will then perform a physical examination and include the following tests:

  • A comparison of the movement of the injured thumb with that of the uninjured thumb looking for looseness of the ligament
  • An assessment of how well the major nerves in your hand function
  • A check for fractures, including an X-ray of your hand to make sure no bones are broken
  • An examination of the rest of your arm for any associated injuries to your wrist, forearm, elbow, and shoulder

How is skier’s thumb treated?

Medical Treatment

If the doctor determines that you have a skier’s thumb, then referral to an orthopedic or hand surgeon will be the next step. The orthopedic surgeon will determine when your thumb needs to be reexamined. At that time, your options for surgical versus nonsurgical therapy will be discussed.

Typically, partial injuries to the ligament are immobilized for several weeks, while complete rupture of the ligament usually requires surgical repair.

Surgery

If you elect to have surgery, then operative exploration and ligament repair using something called a “suture anchor” will most likely be performed. After the operation, your hand may be placed in a lightweight cast to hold your thumb still while your ligament heals. You will have to remain in this cast for some time based on your orthopedic surgeon’s preferences, although some surgeons now advocate early gentle motion.

If you have an associated fracture with your skier’s thumb, then it may be treated with a modified cast. Surgical stabilization of the fracture might be needed if a piece of bone has broken off.

Lifestyle changes & home remedies

What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage skier’s thumb?

The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with skier’s thumb:

  • Apply ice to the thumb for 35 minutes at a time, up to 4 times per day. Do not apply ice directly to your skin. Continue to use ice until the pain stops. (You should see your doctor as soon as possible after the injury and then follow a doctor’s directions for ice therapy.)
  • Avoid movement of the thumb as much as possible. The loose application of an ACE wrap or commercially available wrist brace in the neutral position will help immobilize the thumb. This will help lessen your pain.
  • Take acetaminophen for pain relief or ibuprofen for anti-inflammatory action. Avoid both of these over-the-counter drugs if you have stomach problems and cannot tolerate them.
  • The most important aspect of home care is to ensure that the injury is fully evaluated by an emergency doctor, orthopedic surgeon, or your primary care physician in the first few days.

If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Sources

Review Date: November 3, 2017 | Last Modified: November 3, 2017

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