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.
Skier’s thumb 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.
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 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
- Tenderness to the touch along the index finger side of your thumb
- 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.
If you determine that skier's thumb is possible, considering the way your accident happened, then you should be taken by car to a hospital's emergency department. There is no need to go by ambulance unless that is your only means of transportation or there is another more serious injury associated with the accident.
An alternative to the emergency department would be an office visit to an orthopedic surgeon (bone specialist) or hand surgeon's clinic. If an orthopedic surgeon is available to see you on the day of your injury, it is more efficient to go see the surgeon directly instead of from the emergency department's referral.