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Skier's Thumb


What is skier's thumb?

Skier's thumb, or gamekeeper's thumb, is when a ligament in your thumb is twisted or torn. Ligaments are strong tissues that connect bones and keep your joints secure.

What causes skier's thumb?

  • A direct blow to your thumb
  • Any injury that pulls your thumb away from the palm of your hand
  • A fall onto your open hand with your thumb tucked in
  • Repeated thumb movements that cause your thumb joint to become unstable

What are the signs and symptoms of skier's thumb?

  • Pain, tenderness, and swelling
  • Bruising
  • Trouble holding or pinching things between your thumb and fingers
  • Misshapen thumb
  • Trouble moving your thumb
  • A lump in your thumb

How is skier's thumb diagnosed?

Your caregiver will ask about your injury and examine your thumb. He may check the movement of your thumb. You may need any of the following:

  • X-ray: This picture will show bone damage, such as a fracture. You may need more than one x-ray.
  • CT scan: This test is also called a CAT scan. An x-ray machine uses a computer to take pictures of your thumb. The pictures may show ligament or tissue damage. You may be given dye before the pictures are taken to help caregivers see the pictures better. Tell the caregiver if you have ever had an allergic reaction to contrast dye.
  • MRI: This scan uses powerful magnets and a computer to take pictures of your thumb. An MRI may show ligament or tissue damage. You may be given dye to help the pictures show up better. Tell the caregiver if you have ever had an allergic reaction to contrast dye. Do not enter the MRI room with anything metal. Metal can cause serious injury. Tell the caregiver if you have any metal in or on your body.
  • Ultrasound: An ultrasound uses sound waves to show pictures on a monitor. An ultrasound may be done to show ligament or tissue damage.

How is skier's thumb treated?

  • Pain medicine: You may be given a prescription medicine to decrease pain. Do not wait until the pain is severe before you ask for more medicine.
  • Support devices: Support devices include a removable thumb cast, brace, or splint. These are used to decrease or prevent movement of your thumb so it can heal. They are also used to prevent further damage to your thumb. These devices may be worn for 3 to 6 weeks. This may be the only treatment you need if your injury is not severe.
  • Surgery: Surgery is only done if your injury is severe. A graft (healthy tissue) may be taken from another area of your body to replace a torn ligament. Broken bones will also be fixed during surgery. Wires and screws may be used to hold your bones together while your ligament heals. You will need to wear a support device after your surgery.

What are the risks of skier's thumb?

  • Support devices may cause discomfort in your fingers or hand. You may bleed more than expected or get an infection after surgery. Muscles and nerves may be damaged during surgery. The wires or screws used in surgery may cause small bone fractures. Wires used during surgery may loosen and move out of place in your hand. Even after treatment, you may still feel pain, and your thumb may not return to normal.
  • Without treatment, your thumb may become unstable. Tissues may get trapped between the bone and the injured ligament. This may increase your pain and further decrease your thumb movement. If you have a broken thumb, it may not heal properly. Your joint may become stiff and you may develop long-term pain.

When should I contact my caregiver?

Contact your caregiver if:

  • You have numbness or tingling in your thumb or fingers.
  • You have trouble moving your thumb.
  • Your wound is red, swollen, or draining pus.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

When should I seek immediate care?

Seek care immediately or call 911 if:

  • You have severe thumb pain.
  • Blood soaks through your bandage.
  • Your thumb or fingers change color.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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