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Don’t Let Skier’s Thumb Ruin Winter Vacation (INFOGRAPHIC)

Author: Niki L. Carayannopoulos, DO

It’s that time of the year when thousands of Houstonians flock north in search of the best powder for a week of winter vacation. If you love to ski, make sure you’re up to speed on skier’s thumb, a ski injury commonly caused by falling while the ski pole is planted. A new infographic from Mayo Clinic shares some of the key information every winter sport enthusiast should know about this injury.

What is skier’s thumb?

Skier’s thumb is damage to the ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) of the thumb due to hyperextension and force to your thumb’s metacarpophalangeal (MCP) joint, reports Mayo. In other words, this is an injury that affects the soft tissue connecting the bones of the thumb.

How does it happen?

Skier’s thumb typically occurs when a skier falls with the pole planted. It’s important to practice dropping your ski pole when a fall is imminent. Skier’s thumb can include…

    • Partial tear of ligament
    • Complete rupture of ligament (A variation of this is called Stener lesion where the ligament ruptures and is blocked from healing by an underlying muscle or joint capsule and would require surgery.)
    • Bone fractures

Who’s at risk for skier’s thumb?

Skier’s thumb can occur at any skill level, from beginners on green slopes to experts on double black diamonds. Skier’s thumb accounts for approximately 32% of ski injuries; there are approximately 200,000 cases in the U.S. per year.

Of course, skiers aren’t the only ones at risk for developing this injury. UCL injuries such as this occur in sports that require handheld equipment or hand/ball contact. This injury can also be caused by falling off a bicycle and catching your thumb on the handlebar. A chronic version called “gamekeeper’s thumb” is caused by repeated motions with a video game controller (repetition causes the ligament to gradually stretch and tear).

In fact, 49% of all cases of skier’s thumb occur outside of sports by falling and either landing on an outstretched thumb or trying to grab something.

What are the symptoms of skier’s thumb?

Symptoms of skier’s thumb may include:

    • Pain
    • Swelling
    • Instability of the thumb
    • Arthritis (if left untreated)

How is skier’s thumb treated?

See an orthopedic physician for a consultation if you suspect a thumb UCL injury. Your doctor may order an x-ray, ultrasound scan or MRI scan. Partial tears may be treated with splinting/casting and hand therapy exercises. Complete ruptures or fractures may require surgical repair.

Schedule With a Houston Orthopedic Doctor

For other orthopedic needs, schedule an appointment at Houston Institute for Sports Medicine & Orthopedics by calling (713) 756-5546. You can also schedule your appointment online.

Please consult with your physician before undertaking any form of medical treatment or adopting any exercise program or dietary guidelines.