An Ulnar Collateral Ligament (UCL) injury is better known as skier’s thumb. It is identified as an injury, tear, or other damage done to the soft tissue connecting the bones of the thumb that provide stability to the thumb joint. Many skiers experience this injury while partaking in the sport. 

According to the National Institute of Health (NIH), “A partial or complete rupture of the ulnar collateral ligament of the metacarpophalangeal joint of the thumb, skier’s thumb, is an often-encountered problem. It concerns 86% of all injuries to the base of the thumb. The estimated incidence in the US is approximately 200,000 patients per year. The incidence in the Netherlands is not known. In the last four years, we have diagnosed approximately 85 patients in our own hospital.” 

When the ligament on the inside portion of the thumb joint is torn from the bone, the pinch strength of the thumb is affected. It often takes place with a dislocation or pulling outward of the thumb. 

To diagnose skier’s thumb, specialists analyze the patient history and perform a thorough exam. Patients often report a thumb injury where it was pulled backward or to the side. Swelling is also present, combined with the thumb ligament showing instability. X-rays are typically performed to further gain insight, and an MRI to confirm diagnosis. 

Cast immobilization is generally the treatment for skier’s thumb, with minimal surgical options available. If the injury is treated early on, the ligament might have the potential to be repaired and brought back to the bone. An internal brace allows for a swift recovery. However, if a strong ligament is absent, a tendon can be taken from the wrist to reconstruct the ligament. 

Generally, the recommended immobilization period varies between four and six weeks, usually followed by physical therapy. After roughly three months, the thumb should be completely functional again. 

Michigan Hand & Wrist was founded in 2001 with the mission to provide the highest-quality care for patients seeking surgical or non-surgical hand or upper extremity relief. Our goal is to exhaust all non-operative measures before discussing or moving on to surgical interventions. We offer on-site physical therapy from therapists committed to improving your quality of life. Our individualized treatments are modern, progressive, and exceptional. Call us at 248-596-0412 for further questions. 

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