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Skier's Thumb

Watching the Winter Olympics last night, we were introduced to “skier’s thumb” when American freestyle skier, Gus Kenworthy, announced he’d injured himself during practice. Kenworthy tweeted yesterday, "I will be giving my teammates (and literally everyone else) an enthusiastic ‘thumbs up!’ of encouragement the rest of the trip.” This is because he suffered an injury of skier’s thumb.

Skiing accidents are the most common causes of damage to the ligament that cause skier's thumb. Skier's thumb is an injury of the soft tissue that connects the bones of your thumb together. This soft tissue is called a ligament.

Patients with this injury will have tenderness, swelling and bruising along the inner aspect of the thumb at the first knuckle. The thumb will also lose some of its side-to-side stability. If the ligament is completely torn, the thumb will be so unstable at the first knuckle that it will bend to one side with little effort.

Sometimes skier’s thumb can be treated by a physical therapist with good results. 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.

The chances of success are very good if the thumb is well immobilized after surgery and the patient adheres to a strict thumb exercise program. It is important to avoid all activities that can stress the ligament for a few months following surgery, which is the time it takes the ligament to fully heal.  People with skier’s thumb may be able to return to work and even skiing in a short period of time with proper rehabilitation.

If no treatment is sought, then a condition called “Gamekeeper’s thumb” can develop. This condition is referred to as a chronic injury to the same ligament of the thumb and results in great side-to-side instability of the thumb. The longer the injury exists, the less likely surgery aimed at restoring stability to the thumb will be successful.

If you are suffering from skier’s thumb or a condition that sounds similar, seek the attention of Dr. Justin S. Mitchell of The Precision Hand Surgery Center at Ortho El Paso. Call 915-249-4000 for a consultation or visit us at http://www.orthoep.com/precision-hand-surgery-center.html.