Gamekeeper's thumb, also called skier's thumb, refers to an injury to the ulnar collateral ligament within the thumb. Despite its name, gamekeepers and skiers aren't the only people who need to worry about this injury; hockey players can suffer from it, too. Here are four things hockey players need to know about gamekeeper's thumb.
How does hockey lead to gamekeeper's thumb?
Your ulnar collateral ligament runs down the side of your thumb and makes it possible for you to move your thumb. Gamekeeper's thumb occurs when the thumb is forced backwards; this unnatural motion puts too much force on the ulnar collateral ligament, causing it to stretch or tear. In hockey, this can happen if you fall while you're holding your stick. It can also happen if another player hits your stick, causing it to press against your thumb. Repetitive trauma against the thumb can also lead to this injury. In hockey, this repetitive trauma can occur due to the repetitive forces of slapping a puck into the net or passing it to teammates.
What are the signs of gamekeeper's thumb?
Pain and swelling at the base of the thumb are the main signs of gamekeeper's thumb. Additional symptoms may include bruising or swelling at the base of the thumb. If your ligament is completely torn, you may feel a hard lump at the base of your thumb; this lump is the retracted ligament. These symptoms may appear suddenly following a traumatic injury. In cases where the ligament is injured through repetitive forces, these symptoms will develop gradually. You may realize that something is wrong with your thumb when you start having trouble doing basic tasks like holding a pen or opening a jar.
How serious is gamekeeper's thumb?
If gamekeeper's thumb isn't treated, it can lead to a number of complications that can make both sports and daily life difficult. Your thumb joint may become chronically unstable and painful, or you may develop a weak pinch. Either of these complications can make it harder for you to hold your hockey stick. Arthritis of the thumb joint may also occur. To avoid these problems, see your doctor as soon as possible.
How is gamekeeper's thumb treated?
If your ulnar collateral ligament is stretched or only partially torn, your doctor will attempt conservative treatments like immobilization first. You will wear either a cast or a splint that covers both your forearm and your injured thumb. You'll need to wear this for between three and four weeks. Some athletes are able to keep participating in sports while wearing the splint; your doctor will let you know if this is possible for you.
After your splint or cast comes off, your forearm and thumb will be stiff, so you'll require physiotherapy to regain your prior range of motion. Both stretching and strengthening exercises can be used to help restore your prior abilities. Your physiotherapist will help you regain your hockey-specific skills, as well, like your grip strength.
If your ulnar collateral ligament is completely torn, you'll need to have surgery. Your doctor will refer you to an orthopedic hand surgeon to have this procedure done. The surgeon will make an incision in your thumb to access the damaged ligament. They will then either stitch together the ligament or repair the ligament with autografts. Autografts are tissue grafts that are taken from somewhere else on your body. Both methods of surgical repair have been reported to lead to excellent outcomes.
If your thumb is sore and swollen, you may have have gamekeeper's thumb. Stop playing hockey and see your doctor right away to be diagnosed and treated. Visit websites like http://www.nrothandrehab.com for more information about the potential rehab and recovery from a condition like this.