Skier’s thumb is a very real injury that can lead to long-term pain and dysfunction in your hand. It’s the second most common injury among skiers, next to knee injuries.
Skier’s thumb is an injury to the ligaments in the thumb and most often occurs when you fall on an outstretched hand with a ski pole in your palm. The ski pole causes enough force to partially or fully tear thumb ligaments.
Severe cases of skier’s thumb require surgery to repair the soft tissue.
Our team at Maryland Orthopedic Specialists sees patients with skier’s thumb. In many cases, we believe the injury could have been avoided with smart use of pole straps.
Here’s what to know about skier’s thumb and how to protect yourself from injury.
Causes of skier’s thumb
Skier’s thumb happens when one of your thumb ligaments stretches beyond its normal limits. The injury gets its name because it often happens to skiers when they fall on an outstretched hand while holding a ski pole.
The injury can also happen from a bike or motorcycle accident or during a contact sport like football, lacrosse, or rugby.
When the thumb jams backward and out to the side, it strains the ligament.
Symptoms of skier’s thumb
Of course, a definitive diagnosis from an orthopedic expert, like ours at Maryland Orthopedic Specialists, confirms a skier’s thumb injury. But suspect the injury and seek help if you experience any of the following:
- Swelling or bruising of the thumb
- Pain in the webbing between your thumb and index finger
- Weakness or inability to grab items between your thumb and index finger
- Tenderness along the index finger side of your thumb
- Thumb pain that gets worse with movement
Skier’s thumb can sometimes cause referred pain in your wrist. Skier’s thumb can make writing and opening jars uncomfortable or impossible. Symptoms take 4-6 weeks to resolve and sometimes won’t resolve at all without invasive treatment.
Prevention of skier’s thumb
Keeping your hands outside of the pole straps is a good way to prevent skier’s thumb. This position allows you to easily drop and release the poles during a fall. Falling onto an outstretched hand without ski poles in your hand greatly reduces your risk of injury.
Choose poles that have finger-groove grips rather than those with a wrist strap or closed grip. The finger-groove grips are easier to release.
You might also consider wearing specially designed ski gloves that prevent extreme movement of the thumb and incorporate a mechanism that allows for easy release of the ski pole.
Because skier’s thumb can also happen because of an auto wreck, keep your thumbs on the outside of the steering wheel along with your fingers. This helps protect your thumb if you should have an accident.
Treatment for skier’s thumb
If you were unable to prevent skier’s thumb, you need treatment. For mild cases, at-home therapy like ice, compression, immobilization, and anti-inflammatory medications allow the ligament to heal.
If you have a complete tear, you may need surgery to repair the ligament and restore full hand function.
If you suspect you have experienced skier’s thumb, contact Maryland Orthopedic Specialists for an evaluation at our Bethesda, Rockville, or Germantown, Maryland, office. Call 301-515-0900 or set up an appointment here to get a comprehensive evaluation.