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Skier's Thumb

Medically reviewed by Last updated on May 1, 2023.

What is skier's thumb?

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

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 healthcare provider will ask about your injury and examine your thumb. Your provider may check the movement of your thumb. An x-ray, ultrasound, or MRI will show the ligament injury and any bone damage. You may be given contrast liquid to help the ligament show up better in the pictures. Tell the healthcare provider if you have ever had an allergic reaction to contrast liquid. Do not enter the MRI room with anything metal. Metal can cause serious injury. Tell the healthcare provider if you have any metal in or on your body.

How is skier's thumb treated?

  • NSAIDs , such as ibuprofen, help decrease swelling, pain, and fever. This medicine is available with or without a doctor's order. NSAIDs can cause stomach bleeding or kidney problems in certain people. If you take blood thinner medicine, always ask your healthcare provider if NSAIDs are safe for you. Always read the medicine label and follow directions.
  • Acetaminophen decreases pain and fever. It is available without a doctor's order. Ask how much to take and how often to take it. Follow directions. Read the labels of all other medicines you are using to see if they also contain acetaminophen, or ask your doctor or pharmacist. Acetaminophen can cause liver damage if not taken correctly.
  • Prescription pain medicine may be given. Ask your healthcare provider how to take this medicine safely. Some prescription pain medicines contain acetaminophen. Do not take other medicines that contain acetaminophen without talking to your healthcare provider. Too much acetaminophen may cause liver damage. Prescription pain medicine may cause constipation. Ask your healthcare provider how to prevent or treat constipation.
  • Support devices include a removable splint, elastic bandage, or thumb cast. 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.
  • Surgery may be done if you have a severe injury, such as a completely torn ligament. Broken bones will also be fixed during surgery, if needed. 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.
  • Physical therapy may be recommended after your injury has healed. A physical therapist teaches you exercises to help improve movement and strength, and to decrease pain.

How can I manage my symptoms?

  • Rest your thumb as directed. You will need to limit certain activities while your injury heals. Ask your healthcare provider what activities are safe to do.
  • Apply ice on your thumb for 15 to 20 minutes every hour or as directed. Use an ice pack, or put crushed ice in a plastic bag. Cover it with a towel. Ice helps prevent tissue damage and decreases swelling and pain.
  • Elevate your hand above the level of your heart as often as you can. This will help decrease swelling and pain. Prop your arm on pillows or blankets to keep your hand elevated comfortably.

When should I seek immediate care?

  • You have severe thumb pain.
  • Your thumb or fingers look pale and feel cold.

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

  • You have numbness or tingling in your thumb or fingers.
  • Your symptoms get worse, even with treatment.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

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 healthcare providers 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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