What is skier's thumb (ulnar collateral ligament sprain)?

Skier's Thumb (Ulnar Collateral Ligament Sprain)
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Skier's or gamekeeper's thumb: Overview

Skier's or gamekeeper's thumb is a tear of the ulnar collateral ligament. This injury happens when your thumb is pulled back or to the side, away from your fingers. It often happens when skiers fall on an outstretched hand while holding a ski pole.

Rest and other measures at home can help heal a mild injury. You may need to wear a splint or a cast for 4 to 6 weeks. If your injury is severe or not improving, your doctor may refer you to an orthopedic or hand specialist to decide if you need surgery.

How can you care for yourself when you have skier's or gamekeeper's thumb?

  • Put ice or a cold pack where your thumb connects to your hand. Do this for up to 20 minutes at a time. Try to do this every 1 to 2 hours for the next 3 days (when you are awake) or until the swelling goes down. Put a thin cloth between the ice and your skin.
  • Rest your thumb and hand.
  • Ask your doctor if you can take an over-the-counter pain medicine, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), or naproxen (Aleve). Be safe with medicines. Read and follow all instructions on the label.
  • Follow your doctor's directions for wearing an elastic bandage, splint, or cast on your hand.

Skier's or gamekeeper's thumb

Skeletal view of hand, with detail of complete tear of ulnar collateral ligament in thumb

Skier's (or gamekeeper's) thumb results from a tear of the ulnar collateral ligament of the thumb. This injury can happen when your thumb is pulled back or to the side, away from your fingers. It often happens when a skier falls on an outstretched hand that is holding a ski pole. The tear can be partial or complete.

Skier's or gamekeeper's thumb: When to call

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • You have increasing pain or swelling.
  • You have trouble moving or using your thumb.

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The content above contains general health information provided by Healthwise, Incorporated, and reviewed by its medical experts. This content should not replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Not all treatments or services described are offered as services by us. For recommended treatments, please consult your healthcare provider.

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