Ligament tears on the thumb happen fairly often. The ulnar collateral ligament is a piece of tissue that extends from the thumbs middle joint to the joint near the web area of the thumb. Constant stretching and overextending the ligament can cause it to weaken and eventually develop tears. In addition, accidents that cause the thumb to suddenly pull away from the palm can cause severe damage to the ligaments as well. This can happen if you fall on your palms. The injury is actually common with skiers, as their falls can often place these ligaments in danger. In fact, it is prevalent enough that doctors have taken to calling this type of tear “skiers thumb”.
What Are the Symptoms?
The symptoms of this type of injury include pain and swelling. Those who have torn ligaments will feel that their thumb is weak, and they will have trouble gripping anything. In addition, it may cause bruising around the area. Because of the pain and the weakness, it can make it very difficult to take care of normal daily tasks.
Diagnosis and Treatment
When you go into the doctors office, he or she will examine both of your thumbs and talk with you about the injury and the symptoms you are suffering.
To understand exactly what is happening with your thumb, you will have to undergo imaging tests. These tests will help to get a look inside of your thumb. An x-ray will check to see if there are any fractures in the thumb. The x-ray may not provide a good look at the ligaments though, so other imaging will likely be needed. In addition, they may perform a valgus stress test after administering a local anesthetic. The test will manipulate your thumb into different positions. The doctor will then be able to ascertain the joints stability and will have a better idea of the extent of damage to the ligaments.
For those who only have a partially torn ligament, it is possible for the ligament to heal on its own, although it does take some time. Your doctor will make sure the thumb is immobile for between four to six weeks by placing it in a cast. Once you have the cast removed, you will then need to do some physical therapy to ensure you build up your strength and your flexibility.
In many cases, you will need to have surgery in order to repair your injury to a torn ligament, as it will not be able to heal itself entirely. Different types of surgery can work based on the extent of the injury. Suture repair requires that the hand surgeon open up the hand and repair the ligaments using stitches which will hold them in place so they can heal. In other cases, they may utilize fusion surgery instead, which will graft new tissue onto the ligaments. This could limit some of the mobility though.
If you have a torn ligament, you will want to speak with your surgeon about the options available to find the one that works best for your injury.