What is ‘Skier’s Thumb’ and how does it happen?

‘Skier’s Thumb’ refers to a specific injury to the hand that occurs, primarily, when a significant force is applied pulling the thumb backwards and away from the palm. This causes injury to the ulnar collateral ligament which connects your thumb and hand as well as provides the tension and stability of your thumb. Skier’s Thumb is often seen as a result of a skiing accident, hence the name, when someone falls with their poles still in hand. When this happens, the poles can either snag and pull back on the thumb, or, the hands can hit the ground with the poles underneath, popping the thumb in the air. Another common ‘off-the-slopes’ cause includes car accident injuries when the driver has their thumb(s) wrapped around the steering wheel, puling the thumb back on forceful impact.

So, what are the symptoms?

  • Pain and swelling of the thumb and hand
  • Weakness and instability of the thumb
  • Inability to ‘pinch’ something or hold objects between the thumb and forefinger

If you are exhibiting the above symptoms, it’s best to visit your physician for an x-ray.

How is Skier’s Thumb Treated?
The treatment of Skiers Thumb can vary depending on the severity and extent of the damage. If the ulnar collateral ligament is torn or completely separated from the bone, extensive treatment is most likely necessary including:

  • Brace or casting for 3-4 weeks
  • Surgical mending or reattachment followed by a brace or cast
  • After the above, physical or occupational therapy will be necessary for an additional 4-6 weeks to improve/restore range of motion and flexibility.

While Skier’s Thumb can, and does, occur in other situations, it’s best to let go of your poles if you’re heading for a spill on the slopes to minimize your risk of this type of injury.

Fun Fact: Years ago, this condition was often referred to as ‘Gamekeepers Thumb’ as it was seen in game farmers caused by the repetitive motion of wringing a birds neck between the thumb and forefinger. We’re really not too upset with the name change.

Skier's Thumb Injury

If you’d like more information, or to schedule an appointment with Dr. Beth Dollinger, click here to find her contact information listed in our provider directory.

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