Gamekeeper’s thumb (or skier’s thumb) is a repetitive stress injury of the ulnar collateral ligament (UCL)—tough fibrous tissue that connects the bones at the base of the thumb. Over time, overuse leads to the loosening of the ulnar ligament.
Gamekeeper’s thumb most often occurs as a result of chronic overuse in a sport such as skiing in which gripping of the pole exerts repeated stress on the thumb. Racquet sports can also cause gamekeeper’s thumb and it occasionally results from a fall or other trauma.
If you’re experiencing lingering or severe thumb pain, request an appointment with one of our orthopedic physicians located in Milwaukee or throughout Southeast Wisconsin to avoid worsening your injury. An experienced physician will diagnose your injury and recommend a comprehensive gamekeeper’s thumb treatment (skier’s thumb treatment).
Symptoms of Gamekeeper’s Thumb
Patients with gamekeeper’s thumb have sustained a tear of the ulnar collateral ligament and typically complain of pain and swelling directly over the torn ligament at the base of the thumb. People often have a difficult time grasping objects or holding objects firmly in their grip.
Gamekeeper’s thumb is commonly seen in athletes, who may complain of difficulty holding a tennis racket or throwing a baseball. Patients may also report thumb instability.
Treatment for Gamekeeper’s Thumb
A gamekeeper’s thumb treatment depends on the extent of the injury, how long ago the injury occurred, the age of the patient and the physical demands of the patient. If the tear of the ulnar collateral ligament is partial, and the thumb is not too loose, the patient is usually placed in a cast or a modified wrist splint (called a thumb spica) for four to six weeks.
If the tear is complete and you’re experiencing significant instability, gamekeeper’s thumb surgery may be considered. Surgery is most effective when performed within the first few weeks following injury. Your Midwest Orthopedic Specialty Hospital surgeon will rejoin the torn ends of the ligament back together. If your gamekeeper’s thumb has caused the ligament to be torn from the bone, then the torn end will be sutured down to the bone itself.
Recovery After Gamekeeper’s Thumb Surgery
Following skier’s thumb surgery, patients will be placed in a cast for four to six weeks to protect the repaired ligament. At that point, gentle motion of the finger will begin.
Most people who have had UCL thumb surgery are able to play sports three to four months after surgery. After surgery, it is important to redevelop grip strength and consistently stretch the thumb and hand. A physical therapist may also give you advice on how to reduce the possibility of a recurrence of this repetitive stress injury.