Jock Doc

‘Skier’s thumb’ may require surgery to restore function

Q. I was skiing over the holidays, fell and hurt my left thumb. A pole snapped my left thumb back and it hurt a lot. I had trouble gripping the pole but I was able to keep skiing for the rest of the week. It hurt a lot so I got X-rays, which did not show a fracture. I was told it was just a sprain and it would get better. It has now been a couple of weeks and it still hurts and it does not have any strength. How much longer do you think it will take for it to heal and feel like normal?

A. A common injury that we see in many sports, particularly in skiing, is “skier’s thumb.’’ This is an injury to the ligament at the base of the thumb on the inside part known as the ulnar collateral ligament. This ligament is important in stabilizing the thumb and keeping it from being pushed outward. Thus, the ligament is important in gripping, writing and playing sports such as basketball and football.

When you fall on a ski pole, the thumb pushes outward and tears the ligament. Minor injuries to the ligament can be treated with rest, bracing or a cast. However, complete tears of the ligament usually require surgery to restore normal function. I recommend you see an orthopedic surgeon or hand specialist for evaluation as the best results are in those patients who have been treated quickly. Skier’s thumb can be seen in any sport where the thumb is forced outward. In fact, over the years we have had several Heat players who have sustained this injury.

Dr. Harlan Selesnick is team physician of the Miami Heat and director of Miami Sports Medicine Fellowship, Doctors Hospital. Send your questions to