A torn ligament in the thumb can be painful and an annoyance in everyday life. The technical term for a torn ligament in the thumb is an ulnar collateral ligament injury of the thumb. This type of injury occurs more often that most people would imagine. This type of injury is commonly referred to as the gamekeeper’s thumb or skier’s thumb. A torn ligament in the thumb can temporarily cause your hand to lose the ability to pinch and grasp objects. When there is a complete tear in the ligaments of the thumb, the metacarpophalangeal joint, or MCP joint is affected. This joint becomes weak and unstable, which causes the thumb to bend backwards.
One of the main causes of a torn ligament in the thumb is sudden force. When a forceful event occurs that pushes your thumb away from your palm, a tear can occur. There are many different types of accidents that can occur that can lead to a torn ligament in the thumb. Some of these incidents include, but are not limited to:
- Falling on your hand
- Playing any sport, especially soccer
- Car accidents
- Downhill ski accidents
- Repeated use of the thumb in forceful actions
Some of the symptoms that accompany a torn ligament in the thumb are:
- Difficulty grasping objects
- Thumb is bent backwards
- Unstable thumb
One of the best ways that a doctor can determine if you have a torn ligament in the thumb or have just a sprain is through an X-ray. An X-ray can show if there are any broken bones, tears or a torn ligament. Doctors can also perform a physical examination on the thumb to test its stress level and ability to hold objects. A torn ligament in the thumb can be classified if your thumb can move more than 30 degrees from the hand. This occurs because the ligaments have been torn and need to be repaired. This specific test is called the valgus stress test. A doctor will push your thumb backwards and in different positions to check the severity of the tear.
How To Treat A Torn Ligament In The Thumb
Unfortunately, a complete tear in the ligament of the thumb does not guarantee just a cast on the thumb. A cast on the thumb is usually reserved for partially torn ligaments. Placing ice packs on your injured thumb can help reduce the pain and swelling. Over-the-counter medications such as Aleve, Advil or Tylenol can help ease the pain of the torn ligament. To repair a torn ligament in the thumb, surgery is required. The reason for surgery is because a torn ligament in the thumb cannot properly heal on its own. Even through a surgical procedure to help fix a torn ligament in the thumb, the nerves in the thumb may never regain full strong. Physical therapy is often recommended for patients with a partially or a completely torn ligament in the thumb.
There are two types of surgeries that can be performed to repair a torn ligament in the thumb. The first is a fusion surgery and this type of surgery is for people will chronic tears of the ligament. During the surgery, doctors will use new tissue to reconstruct ligaments and fuse the joints together. The second type of surgery is called suture repair. During this surgery, sheets of tissue are cut, such as the adductor aponeurosis, and then stitched together from the back of the thumb to the bone. After the surgery occurs, then a cast should be worn for at least 4-8 weeks to help repair the torn ligament. After the removal of the cast, your thumb may remain in a splint for an additional 2-4 weeks, depending on the severity of the torn ligament. It is important that no physical activity is performed by the injured thumb because it can prolong the healing time.
There may not be a 100% fool-proof way to prevent a torn ligament in the thumb, but there are certain things people can do to help prevent it from occurring. Always use protection on your hands when playing sports to reduce the risk of an injury. Remember to take a break from repetitive actions using your hands and thumbs.