Skier’s Thumb

Skier’s thumb is an injury that affects the ligament of the thumb, simply put, it is a thumb sprain. The ligament is a soft tissue that connects the bones together. The main ligament found in the thumb is called the ulnar collateral ligament (UCL). When skier’s thumb occurs, the ligament is either stretched or torn.The injury was coined as such due to the high occurrence in skiers. In severe cases, there is a complete tearing of the ligament.Skier’s thumb was previously known as Gamekeeper’s thumb and is also called UCL tear.

Skier’s thumb is not usually a medical emergency but may need medical attention. There is usually good prognosiswith individuals who sprain their thumbs. Individuals can usually return to normal activities and work within a short period of time with apt rehabilitation.

Grades of Skier’s Thumb

Skier’s thumb is typically ranked based on the extent of the damage on ligaments.

  • Grade 1
    • Stretched ligaments but not torn
    • Improved with light stretching
  • Grade 2
    • Partially torn ligaments
    • Require a splint or a cast
  • Grade 3
    • Completely torn ligaments
    • Frequently requires surgery

Causes of Skier’s Thumb

Skiing accidents are the most common causes of skier’s thumb, accounting for 8%-10% of all skiing accidents. Specifically, these accidents may lead to thumb sprain:

  • Falling unto an outstretched hand with an empty palm but in high velocity and jamming into a packed snow
  • Falling unto an outstretched hand with a ski pole in the palm of the hand
  • Vehicular accidents where the driver’s thumb is draped over the steering wheel
  • Abnormal bending of the thumb to the side or the back

Symptoms of Skier’s Thumb

Symptoms do not necessarily manifest right after the accident occurs. Symptoms may show within minutes to hours and the severity will depend on the grade it is ranked:

  • Weak grasping or inability to grasp at all between the thumb and the index finger
  • Tenderness to touch along the index finger side of the thumb
  • Pain in the web area between the base of the thumb and index finger that worsens upon movement
  • Swelling
  • Discoloration of the skin, usually black or blue in color
  • Wrist pain

First Aid Treatment for Skier’s Thumb

Skier’s Thumb

Skier’s Thumb

It is generally recommended to seek medical attention for cases of skier’s thumb for proper diagnosis and medical treatment. While waiting for medical care, apply first aid to relieve of symptoms.

  • Immobilize the injured thumb by applying a loose ACE wrap, wrist brace or splint. This will help relieve pain.
  • Ice the thumb for 35 minutes, four times a day. Do not apply ice directly to the skin as it may worsen and prolong the injury. Do this until the pain disappears.
  • To reduce pain, take paracetamol. To limit inflammation, take ibuprofen. These drugs should be avoided if stomach problems occur when taken.

To learn how to properly administer first aid for skier’s thumb and other tissue and sports related injuries, enrol in First Aid Courses.

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