Dr. Bobby Chhabra, chair of the Department of Orthopaedics at the University of Virginia, also leads as division head of the department’s hand and upper extremity surgery practice. Dr. Bobby Chhabra further applies his expertise as a hand surgery consultant for the University of Virginia’s Department of Athletics, having treated numerous sports-related injuries related to the upper extremities.
The term “skier’s thumb” refers to an injury of the ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) of the thumb. As its name indicates, it most commonly occurs as a result of a fall in downhill skiing, when the force of impact causes the ski pole to pull on and even tear the ligament. This level of force is unlikely to be present when a patient falls on an empty hand, though it is possible for any injury that cause a backward or sideways bend of the thumb to sufficiently stress the ligament.
If the ligament is only partially torn, the patient may be able to fully recover with immobilization of the thumb. If a full rupture is present, surgery is typically necessary. The surgeon will make a small cut in the thumb to expose the UCL, to which he or she will then apply sutures that re-attach ligament to bone.
Most patients recover full thumb strength following UCL surgery. In the occasional cases that end in chronic instability, a follow-up fusion procedure may be necessary to guard against the development of arthritis.