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Sprained Thumb Hand Physiotherapy

Often commonly known as

  • Goalkeeper's Thumb
  • Skier's Thumb
  • Basketballer's Thumb

a sprained thumb is a common cause of thumb injury, pain and swelling.

Why it was called Goalkeeper's thumb as usually it's a thumb that many goalkeepers have, as the balls flying towards the goal/them may hit on their thumbs. Skiers also get this similar injury from the use of the ski sticks that gets jammed in the snow/objects, yanking the thumb backwards.

Sprained thumbs refers to a damage to the ulnar collateral ligament  (UCL), which can mean partial or full tear (see image below)

This injury is not exclusive to skiers or goalkeepers and can happen to anyone where the is enough force applied to the thumb backways that moves the thumb as far as possible from the hand. Some of our patients have gotten this injury by falling and getting their thumb caught in a joint/shirt too.

Sprained Thumb Symptoms

Mild sprains, patients may feel

In a severe case of a sprained thumb, you will often notice immediate thumb swelling and bruising that increases from the moment you injured your thumb. In some cases, the affected area may even turn bluish-purplish in color (see original image at the beginning of article).

For people who has sprained thumbs for more than three (3) months ago and if the thumb strength, stability and function hadn't returned 100% (termed as chronic), you may find that when you feel and palpate the joint, you may find thickening of the joint.

The thumb joint may feel more loose or lax, unstable, when compared to the other non-injured thumb joint; and you may find increased difficulties when pinching or manipulating small objects between the thumb and index finger.

Sprained Thumb Hand Physiotherapy treatment

Our senior hand therapist will first do an indepth thumb and hand assessment on your sprained thumb, to check its range of motion, function, pain score, injury severity.

If the thumb joint is very unstable, we may need to prescribe a custom-made thumb and wrist splint to protect the torn thumb ligament, which needs to be worn a minimum of 6 - 12 weeks to prevent aggravation of the injury and encourage the torn parts to connect and heal well.

In the early phase of therapy, we will focus on

  • stabilizing the injury with the splinting
  • cold therapy to decrease the swelling and pain
  • ultrasound therapy to accelerate soft tissue healing
  • protected/gentle mobilization to prevent adhesions and encourage gliding of delicate thumb and hand structures

Once the injury is less acute, then our senior hand therapists will gradually

  • introduce more active ranging exercises
  • progressive strengthening
  • aim for 100% range of motion, strength and stability

A dedicated senior physiotherapist and hand therapist program will likely help you to resolve your sprained thumb condition within six (6) to twelve (12) weeks.