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Thumb Sprain

A sprained thumb is a common injury in athletes. The thumb is made up of two bones, called phalanges. The bones of the thumb are connected by bands of flexible tissue called ligaments. A thumb sprain is a tear or stretch of one of the ligaments of the thumb. A common injury to the thumb is a tear of one of the ligaments of the thumb called the ulnar collateral ligament but other ligaments of the thumb may be injured as well.

Thumb  Sprain Hero Image 2

A sprained thumb is a common injury in athletes. The thumb is made up of two bones, called phalanges. The bones of the thumb are connected by bands of flexible tissue called ligaments. A thumb sprain is a tear or stretch of one of the ligaments of the thumb. A common injury to the thumb is a tear of one of the ligaments of the thumb called the ulnar collateral ligament but other ligaments of the thumb may be injured as well. While some thumb sprains heal quickly, a  Ulnar collateral ligament injury of the thumb may be more  serious and require surgical treatment.

What causes Thumb Sprain?

Thumb  sprains are caused by a physical force to the thumb  that over-stretches or tears the ligaments in the thumb . This injury can occur due to a fall on an outstretched hand, or when a ball jams or bends the thumb too far. A thumb ulnar collateral ligament tear occurs most commonly from a skiing injury.

Thumb sprains frequently result from a sports injury, and are most common in these sports:

• Basketball
• Baseball
• Softball
• Gymnastics
• Football
• Rugby

 

Symptoms

With a thumb sprain, athletes usually experience pain or stiffness in the thumb. Other common symptoms include:

 

  • Swelling
  •  Tenderness
  • Thumb feels loose and not secure
  •  Limited mobility
  •  Bruising

 

When to see a doctor

If you have injured your thumb and have symptoms, you should visit your doctor.  At your appointment, be sure to provide the details of your injury and the sports you play. This information will help your doctor make a diagnosis. Your doctor will be looking carefully to make sure that you do not have a more serious ulnar collateral ligament injury.

During a physical examination of your thumb, your doctor will look for signs of swelling and tenderness. You may be asked to extend and flex your thumb to see if you have limited mobility. During the physical exam, he or she will move your thumb in different directions to test the stability of your thumb joint. X-rays may be ordered to help your doctor evaluate the extent of your injury and determine if you have fractured or only sprained your thumb.

Many times a MRI scan is needed if your doctor suspects a ulnar collateral ligament injury to determine if surgery is needed.

Non-operative treatment

Thumb  sprains not involving the ulnar collateral ligament of the thumb are usually treatable with non-surgical measures. Treatment may include:

• Applying ice to reduce swelling and pain
• Keeping your thumb  elevated, especially at night, to reduce swelling
• Gently moving your thumb  to prevent stiffness
• Taking anti-inflammatory medication (e.g. aspirin, ibuprofen, or naproxen) for pain
• For more severe cases, it may be necessary to immobilize the thumb using a splint

Treatment of a thumb UCL injury will depend on the severity of the injury. Mild and moderate UCL injuries can be treated with conservative measures but more significant tears of the ulnar collateral ligament may need surgery.

 

Surgical Treatment

Thumb sprains very rarely need surgical treatment unless they involve the ulnar collateral ligament.

Some tears of the ulnar collateral ligament may need surgery to reattach the UCL to the thumb joint. Patients who undergo surgery typically must wear a cast or a splint for several weeks after the procedure to aid in their recovery.

Recovery

Most thumb sprains not involving the ulnar collateral ligament  will fully heal within three to six weeks. A full return to sport will depend on the severity of the injury, and occupational l therapy may be helpful in your recovery. Often, it is helpful to protect the thumb by taping when you first return to play to avoid re-injury. For those thumb sprains involving the ulnar collateral ligament of the thumb, the recovery will vary depending on the treatment needed

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