How to Heal Your Skier's Thumb
Ski pass tagged to your snowpants? Check. Doing your annual dance for the snow gods? Check. But before you hit the slopes, we want to tell you about a common injury that happens on the ski hill: Skier’s Thumb! (Oh, and don’t stop reading there, all you snowboarders: you can be at risk, too!)
Skier’s Thumb is an injury to the ligament (your soft, connective tissue) in the lower joint of the thumb. It’s officially called the Ulnar collateral ligament, so might also hear of it referred to as a UCL tear. It’s one of the most common thumb problems, and constitutes 8-10% off all skiing injuries.
The most common cause of an injured UCL is falling on an extended arm, with your hand bracing your fall – and you’re extra vulnerable if you happen to be holding a pole in your palm! However, a ski pole isn’t the only culprit: jamming the thumb at an awkward angle into hard-packed snow at a high velocity can get you a Skier’s Thumb, too.
The UCL is an integral part of your normal hand functions: it acts as a stabilizer, and is vital in the thumb’s grasping and pinching motions. Needless to say, it gets used all day, every day – from putting on your boots in the morning, to holding your beer glass in the lodge at the end of the day.
Not to mention, of course, the discomfort it can cause! You can tell if you have skier’s thumb by pain in the webbed space between your thumb and index finger, and the inability (or pain when trying) to pinch the thumb and index finger together. If your thumb is swollen, bruised, or stiff, or if the inside of your index finger closest to the thumb is tender and sore, that crash on the slopes (or any other slip or mishap!) might have taken a bigger toll than you initially thought.
Thankfully, there’s a solution at hand (we couldn’t resist!) and it comes in the form of a certified Hand Therapist. (That is, unless you have a full UCL tear, in which case your doctor may recommend surgery. This is rare, however, and most commonly the injury is a strain or partial tear.) Down here at Creekside, we feel lucky to have our very own in-house certified Hand Therapist: Kari is extensively trained and excited to help you heal!
She’ll likely get you a custom-made orthosis for the thumb to rest in while the ligament heals. During that time, you’ll be given gentle exercises for the hand, to ensure that everything is healing optimally. After the ligament is repaired, those exercises will progress and deepen, in order to increase strength and normal function in the thumb and hand.
So if last week’s tumble offered you a painful dose of Skier’s Thumb, let’s get you gliding toward a healed and pain-free hand, so you can get back on the slopes where you belong.