CARING FOR ATHLETES
THUMB INJURIES ARE COMMON IN SPORTS
Steffi Graf, the world’s top-ranked woman tennis player, splintered a bone in her right thumb when she fell last week while skiing. Unfortunately for Graf, she will be unable to swing a tennis racket for at least six weeks. Thumb injuries in sports are not that uncommon and can be very debilitating.
Perhaps the most common sports related thumb injury occurs to skiers. Most thumb injuries are not fractures, but involve sprains of ligaments that stabilize the thumb’s bones. Many ski injuries to the thumb go unreported. “Skier’s thumb” is probably the most common of all ski injuries, and it is estimated that 75% of all ski injuries are to the thumb. This type of injury occurs when a skier attempts to break a call with an outstretched hand containing a ski pole, thus, causing the thumb to hyperextend. If the skier was able to simply release the pole during the fall, the injury could be avoided. Therefore it is advisable to grip the pole outside the strap, and to avoid molded grips or grips with straps that release on impact, as they do not allow the pole to separate from the hand when the grasp is released.
Another common thumb injury is called “bowler’s thumb.” Bowler’s thumb is found in 10-pin bowlers who repetitively irritate a superficial nerve in the thumb. It is not uncommon for the symptoms of numbness and tingling to be present during bowling competition, and transiently diminish during rest. However, repetitive pressure to this nerve over long periods of time can result in permanent nerve damage. By simply enlarging the bowling ball’s thumb hole, and/or decreasing the severity of the symptoms. If symptoms of numbness and tingling are persistent, a sports medical examination is advised in an effort to prevent permanent nerve damage.
Another common thumb injury is called “game-keeper’s thumb.” The sprain of a collateral ligament at the base of your thumb may result from being hit on the tip of your thumb with a ball, or having your thumb strike the ground or another athlete. Frequently, this injury is overlooked and dismissed as a minor injury. However, the importance of the involved ligament is paramount. The injured ligament is necessary for stabilizing the thumb when performing manual dexterity activities. If a tear of this ligament is not properly diagnosed and adequately treated, the athlete may lose the ability to perform simple grasping and pinching maneuvers with the hand. Also, chronic pain may result and tenderness persists, if the injury is repetitively traumatized. Once the injury has occurred, it is important that rest, ice and compression be used in conjunction with anti-inflammatory medication. If the athlete must continue participation, protective padding and taping can usually prevent further trauma.
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