A stable thumb is very important for pinch and grasp activities. A thumb sprain is an injury to the main ligament in the thumb. A sprained thumb is also often referred to as gamekeeper’s thumb or skier’s thumb.
Ligaments are soft tissue structures that connect two bones to make a stable joint. If you tear the main ligament (ulnar collateral ligament) at the base of your thumb, your pinch and grasp activity will be weak.
When you fall it is instinct to extend your arms to reduce the impact from hitting the ground. The way you land on the hand can stretch or tear the ulnar collateral ligament. Additionally, falling while on the ski slopes while your hand is strapped to a ski pole can also injure your thumb, which is why it is often referred to as skier’s thumb.
Symptoms of a thumb sprain
- Weakened ability to grasp items between the thumb and index finger
- There may be pain right away
To determine whether you have a sprained thumb, your physician will ask you for a complete medical history and how the injury occurred, how you describe your symptoms and conduct a physical examination. An X-ray may be necessary to rule out other problems.
Treatment for a sprained thumb
If the ligament is only partially torn, your physician will normally immobilize your thumb joint with a bandage, cast or splint until it heals. To ease pain and swelling you can ice your thumb twice a day for two to three days after the injury.
For the first three weeks after your injury, you should wear the splint or cast at all times. After that, you can take it off to do strengthening exercises for your thumb for another two to three weeks, until the swelling and tenderness in the thumb are gone.
If the ligament is completely torn, surgery may be needed to regain normal stability. Surgery involves reconnecting the ligament to the bone. After surgery, a short arm cast or a splint will be worn for three to four weeks to protect the ligament while it heals.
Rehabilitation for a thumb sprain is very important to regain range of motion, grip and pinch strength.
Learn more about hand, wrist and elbow treatment at OrthoIndy.
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