Skier's Thumb Overview
Skier's thumb describes an injury of the soft tissue that connects the bones of your thumb together. In medical terms, this soft tissue is called a ligament.
This injury was originally noted in 1955 as a chronic ligament problem seen in Scottish gamekeepers who damaged their thumbs by repeatedly twisting the necks of hares. The injury was termed the gamekeeper's thumb at that time. The popularity of recreational downhill skiing has caused this injury to become much more common in the United States and has caused the term gamekeeper's thumb to be replaced with the more contemporary term, skier's thumb.
Skier’s thumb now accounts for a significant number of skiing injuries. 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.
People with skier’s thumb may be able to return to work and even skiing in a short period with proper rehabilitation.
Skier's Thumb Causes
Skiing accidents are the most common causes of damage to the ligament that cause the injury known as skier's thumb. Injuries of this ligament make up 8-10% of all skiing accidents.
- More specifically, a fall on an outstretched hand with a ski pole in the palm of your hand creates the force necessary to stress the thumb and stretch or tear the ligament.
- A simple fall on an outstretched hand with an empty palm usually does not create this same force. However, your thumb can also be injured if it jams into packed snow at high velocity.
- Another less common cause of this injury is an automobile crash when the driver has the thumb alone draped over the steering wheel.
- Any injury in which the thumb is abnormally bent backward or to the side can cause skier's thumb.
Skier's Thumb Symptoms
These signs and symptoms may occur minutes to hours after the fall that created the injury.
- Pain at the base of the thumb in the web space between thumb and index finger
- Swelling of your thumb
- Inability to grasp or weakness of grasp between your thumb and index finger (most important)
- Tenderness to the touch along the index finger side of your thumb (most important)
- Blue or black discoloration of the skin over the thumb
- Thumb pain that worsens with movement in any or all directions
- Pain in the wrist (which may be referred pain from your thumb)
When to Seek Medical Care
If you experience any of the symptoms of skier's thumb following an injury, call your doctor as soon as possible. Follow your doctor's instructions about special home care considerations and find out when your thumb can be checked.