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What is Skiers Thumb?

For those planning to hit the slopes this winter, we thought we’d dedicate this post to one of the most common injuries amongst the ski enthusiasts – the skiers thumb. What many people don’t realise is just how much we rely on our thumb for most hand movements, gripping and simply just being able to move our other fingers pain free. Injure your thumb and you soon know about it!

Skiers thumb got its name because of the manner in which skiers grip their poles. When a fall occurs the skier can fall onto their thumb in this position which results in the strong ligament that supports the thumb (the ulnar collateral ligament of the metacarpo-phalangeal joint if you want to get technical) becoming damaged, making it unstable. Sometimes, simply the act of gripping the pole while skiing for long periods of time results in the tendon becoming overworked and strained causing it to become inflamed and painful. This can also be known as "Gamekeepers thumb".

Symptoms include a swollen and bruised thumb, particularly at the base, which is painful to touch and move. Sufferers will find it difficult to grip anything using the thumb as the ulna collateral ligament is involved in the grip function. The severity of the injury can range from a small partial tear in the ligament to a complete tear requiring surgery. The only way to diagnose how severe a tear is would be a trip to the doctors for examination.

Skiers thumb can be treated in a number of ways depending on the tear. With a partially torn ligament a splint or cast can be worn as well as undergoing a short course of rehabilitation exercises. For a completely torn ligament, surgery to repair the ligament is undergone followed again by a period of rehabilitation. Some patients choose to wear a splint to support the thumb after experiencing skiers thumb injury whilst partaking in sports to offer extra stability and to ensure that the injury doesn’t reoccur.

There are instances when the ligament doesn’t completely heal and becomes weak and unstable. This may require repeat surgery and further rehabilitation treatment. Always make sure if you think you have a torn ligament that you seek medical attention and refrain from strenuous activity so to not cause any further, longer-term damage.