Thumb Ulnar Collateral Ligament Injury

Thumb ulnar collateral ligament injuries, also known as “skier’s thumb,” is a condition common among athletes that results in an acute sprain or tear of the ulnar collateral ligament (UCL). When the UCL’s tissue connecting bones in the hand to the thumb stretches or tears, it can result in pain, reduction in movement, and difficulty squeezing and gripping.


UCL injuries are common in falls, from squeezing steering wheels in car accidents, and in many sports such as skiing, basketball, football, and tennis.


Symptoms and pain from UCL injuries vary depending on the severity of the injury. Symptoms typically include pain moving your thumb, bruising and swelling at the thumb, difficulty bringing the thumb to other fingers to pinch or squeeze, and a bump under the skin. If you experience any of these symptoms after experiencing a thumb injury, you should see your doctor.


Physicians generally diagnose UCL injuries by bending the thumb’s joint away from the hand. In mild cases, there is pain but the joint is still stable. The joint will be unstable in cases where the UCL is torn completely. The joint capsule or volar plate could also be damaged in the most severe cases. X-rays are required to determine if the UCL has pulled away from the bone or if there is a fracture. An MRI could also be used to diagnose displaced ligaments.


Treatment of thumb UCL injuries varies depending on the severity of the injury. Placing the thumb in a cast for up to six weeks will typically treat partial tears and minor fractures. Surgery is required for complete tears and displaced fractures. With the right diagnosis and treatment, most patients can expect to regain their full range of motion.


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