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“Skier’s Thumb”

The cold weather means it's time to hit the slopes! While there is friendly debate as to whether skiing or snowboarding is the better winter sport, there's no arguing that both of these popular activities can cause serious injuries to our wrists, hands and fingers.

When participating in winter sports, it’s important to know your limits when it comes to staying injury-free. The best way to avoid serious injury is to make sure that you’ve learned to fall correctly and to stick to slopes that are appropriate for your skill level.

One of the most common injuries that can occur while skiing or snowboarding is called “Skiers Thumb.” Skier’s Thumb is an acute tearing of the ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) of the thumb that acts as a stabilizer of the metacarpophalangeal (MCP) joint at the base of the thumb. It occurs when skiers fall on an outstretched hand while holding a ski pole which bends the thumb away from the hand and stresses the UCL leading to its tearing. Gamekeeper’s Thumbis a similar condition that involves stretching of this ligament over time that results in increased laxity and instability in the thumb.

Symptoms of Skiers Thumb include pain at the base of the thumb that can often be localized to the side closest to your index finger. Swelling, discoloration and wrist pain can also be present. Patients will often complain of pain that is worse with movement of the thumb along with weakness or inability to grasp things with their thumb and index finger.

A physician can make the diagnosis by testing the stability of the UCL compared to your unaffected thumb. In addition, they will check for any damage to your hand nerves and for any associated injuries in your wrist, elbow and shoulder. X-rays will also be taken of your hand to rule out any fractures. MRI may be necessary.

It is vital to check your ski equipment every year to ensure that everything fits properly. Newer ski equipment has become increasingly technical and reliable. Helmets and gloves are a must. In addition to keeping you warm, they help prevent trauma injuries. If you are planning on alpine skiing, you should consider the latest ski pole models with an automatic release outlet. They are designed to help you release your hand at the right time to avoid the dangerous twists that can lead to injuries.

Other common hand and wrist injuries sustained while skiing or snowboard are a fractured or sprained wrist, metacarpal fractures or sprains, or phalangeal fractures.

What is the treatment? In the acute phase immediately after the injury, care should be taken to ice the injured area and prevent excessive movement by not using the thumb or by using a commercially available wrist brace with thumb support. Follow-up with a physician should then be pursued for definitive treatment. If a partial injury to the UCL is present without severe instability, the thumb can usually be immobilized for several weeks as treatment. Complete rupture or tearing of the ligament usually requires surgery.

If you sustained an injury while one the slopes and are suffering from hand or wrist pain, it is important to schedule an appointment as soon as possible. Please contact our office for a consultation.

For more information or to request an appointment, please contact Dr. Patrick McDaid, M.D. at

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