We see this kind of sprain most often in sports and accidental falls, where the thumb can jam against another person, a ball, or the ground.
What is it?
All sprains are injuries to ligaments, which are simply the tissues that connect bones across a joint.
What causes it?
We see this kind of sprain most often in sports and accidental falls, where the thumb can jam against another person, a ball, or the ground. It’s most often the ulnar collateral ligament which is injured. This type of sprain is better known as “skier’s thumb,” as it often occurs when a skier falls while holding onto the pole, which bends the thumb. This type of injury can also occur in other sports or falls unrelated to sports.
What are the symptoms?
Patients will generally feel a sudden, sharp pain at the moment of the injury and may even hear a snap or pop sound when it happens. This is generally followed by pain and stiffness in the thumb. It becomes painful to move and looks swelled and bruised.
How do we diagnose it?
After a doctor examines the thumb to check for ligament tearing, an x-ray is usually taken to rule out fractures.
How is it treated?
If a ligament tear is present, but it is only a partial tear, you may be given a cast or splint. If, however, there is a complete tear, surgery is usually needed to repair the torn ligament. Occasionally, what remains of the ligament is badly damaged and reconstruction is required. In patients with chronic injuries, we advise ligament reconstruction or, in arthritic patients, joint fusion.
On the rare occasion that a thumb sprain is accompanied by a fracture, we usually proceed with reparative surgery that employs metal pins, screws or plates.