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Ulnar Collateral Ligament Sprain of Thumb

(Skier’s Thumb; Gamekeeper’s Thumb)

How to Say It: Ull-narr Co-lat-err-ull Ligg-uh-ment Sprain of Thumb

Definition

An ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) sprain is an injury to the ligament of the first thumb joint. A ligament is a band of tissue that connects bone to bone. A sprain is tearing of a ligament.

Causes

This sprain is caused by trauma to the ligament. This can happen from a fall or sports injury. It can also be from repeated stress on the UCL.

Risk Factors

Things that raise the risk of this problem are:

  • Sports, such as skiing, football, biking, and soccer
  • Falling

Symptoms

You may have:

  • Pain
  • Bruising
  • Swelling
  • Weakness when holding or squeezing things
  • Poor range of motion

Diagnosis

You will be asked about your symptoms, health history, and how the injury happened. A physical exam will be done. It will focus on the thumb. This is often enough to make the diagnosis.

Images may be done to find out how much harm was done. This can be done with:

Bones in the Hand

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Treatment

Treatment will depend on how severe the injury is. The goal is to ease pain and improve movement. Options are:

  • Medicine to ease pain and swelling
  • A splint or cast to keep the thumb from moving as it heals
  • Exercises to help with strength, flexibility, and range of motion

Surgery may be needed for a severe sprain or complete tear.

Prevention

Most strains are due to accidents. They cannot always be prevented. The risk may be lowered by using the correct techniques when playing sports.

RESOURCES:

Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians
http://www.familydoctor.org

Ortho Info—American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons
http://www.orthoinfo.org

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

Canadian Orthopaedic Foundation
http://www.canorth.org

Health Canada
https://www.canada.ca

REFERENCES:

Skier’s thumb. British Society for Surgery of the Hand website. Available at: http://www.bssh.ac.uk/patients/conditions/32/skiers_thumb. Accessed August 2, 2021.

Sprained thumb. Ortho Info—American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons website. Available at: https://orthoinfo.aaos.org/en/diseases--conditions/sprained-thumb. Accessed August 2, 2021.

Ulnar collateral ligament injury of the thumb. American Society of Hand Therapists website. Available at: https://www.asht.org/sites/default/files/docs/2016/UCL%20Injury%20of%20the%20Thumb%202016.pdf. Accessed August 2, 2021.

Ulnar collateral ligament sprain of thumb. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/ulnar-collateral-ligament-sprain-of-thumb. Accessed August 2, 2021.

Last reviewed July 2021 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Warren A. Bodine, DO, CAQSM  Last Updated: 8/2/2021