Hitting the Slopes this Holiday Season? Don’t Get Caught with Skier’s Thumb

An age-old hand injury now associated with modern day sports

This time of year the adventures that beckon include snow packed peaks and winter white trails. To ensure success on the slopes, learn how to avoid a common hand injury that could end your run and holiday fun early; “Skier’s thumb.” Skier’s thumb is among one of the more common hand injuries associated with these winter sports.  If not properly treated it can affect “pinch and grip” strength, hindering overall hand function and predisposing the joint to chronic instability and osteoarthritis.

What is Skier’s Thumb

Skier’s Thumb, UCL Damage of the Thumb’s MCP Joint

Skier’s thumb, which is also referred to as a thumb sprain or “Gamekeeper’s thumb,” is an injury to the ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) of the thumb’s metacarpal phalangeal (MCP) joint.  It is the result of forced abduction or hyperextension of the proximal phalanx of the thumb, caused by abnormal pulling of the thumb, such as in a fall, while affixed to the ski pole/hoop.  While this type of injury is often seen among skiers, it is also frequently seen in athletes or those sustaining a fall on an outstretched hand.

The term “Gamekeeper’s thumb” was first coined in 1955 by CS Campbell, who identified UCL injuries as an occupational disease in Scottish gamekeepers. The gamekeepers strangled rabbits using their thumb and index finger, and the repeated valgus stresses resulted in UCL injury and chronic instability of the MCP joint [1]. In the present day, this lesion occurs more frequently in acute sports-related injuries like skiing.

Signs of Injury to the Ulnar Collateral Ligament Include:

  • Pain at the base of the thumb between the thumb and index finger
  • Swelling of the thumb
  • Weakness pinching or grasping
  • Tenderness along the index finger side of the thumb
  • Blue or black discoloration of the skin over the thumb
  • Thumb pain that worsens with movement in any or all directions

Diagnosing Skier’s Thumb

A physical examination and patient history are used in diagnosing this condition. To determine the extent of damage to the UCL, the thumb is moved in various positions to assess stability of the thumb joint.  A stress x-ray may be recommended to confirm that there are no broken bones.

Treatment and Rehabilitation for Skiers Thumb

Treatment for Skier’s Thumb depends on the extent of the damage.  Most cases respond well to conservative, nonsurgical treatment, which may entail immobilization in a cast initially – followed by a splint for a total of six weeks.

If the UCL is completely torn, surgery may be indicated to reconnect the ligament to the bone and restore range of motion and full thumb function.  Any bone damage that occurred during the tear is also repaired during this time.  Following surgery, patients are put in a splint and undergo range of motion exercises with protected activities for four to six weeks. This is then followed by conditioning and strengthening of the thumb.

References

  1. Hung CY, Varacallo M, Chang KV. Gamekeepers Thumb. StatPearls. (Last updated Aug 11, 2021) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK499971/ .

 Dr. Korsh Jafarnia is a Houston board-certified, fellowship trained orthopedic surgeon specializing in the hand, wrist and elbow. He is a published author and recognized locally and nationally as a “top doctor” in his field, who is highly sought for his level of expertise in hand and upper extremity orthopedic care.

 

 

Have an Injury-Free Fourth!

Considered the official kickoff to summer, the Fourth of July is a fun-filled celebration commemorated with outdoor barbeques and festivities.  Unfortunately, too many find themselves in the emergency room over this holiday weekend as a result of firework-related accidents.

While unofficially those at highest risk for firework injuries are adolescent boys, the adult male population are a close second in the highest risk group – according to reports of ER physicians and orthopedic hand specialists….

And it is estimated that over 40 percent of firework injuries occur to the hand, wrist and elbow.

Injuries most commonly occur when an ignited firework seemingly fails to go off, though explodes when handled.  Other injuries occur as a result of the extreme heat many fireworks omit.  Even the unassuming “sparkler” can heat to over 2000 degrees, capable of causing 2nd and 3rd degree burns.

The fireworks most implicated in causing injury include small firecrackers, bottle rockets and sparklers, because they are assumed to be less dangerous.  Individuals mistakenly use less caution when handling these types of fireworks.

Some of the most common hand and upper extremity traumatic injuries resulting from firework-related accidents include:

  • Burns
  • Contusions and lacerations
  • Damage to bones, muscle, ligaments and nerves 

Medical Attention for a Traumatic Firework Injury

It is important to seek immediate attention for a traumatic firework injury, to avoid permanent damage to the hand and wrist.

The hand alone contains approximately 50 nerves, with 34 muscles moving the fingers and thumb, and over 120 known ligaments, 30 major joints, 30 bones and a myriad of connective tendons involved in carrying out our everyday activities.

Long-term hand function is dependent on not only immediate care but proper follow up.  If such injuries are not adequately addressed, permanent nerve and tendon damage can impair hand feeling and movement. And the early onset of osteoarthritis from post-traumatic bone and joint damage can further hinder hand function.

Reducing Risks of Traumatic Firework-Related Injury

While many of the tips for reducing risk of hand injury from fireworks seem common sense, they can be overlooked during the excitement.  They include:

  • Ignite all fireworks with extended lighters.
  • Remain a safe distance from ignited fireworks.
  • Allow sufficient time for fireworks to go off / explode before approaching (and handle previously ignited fireworks with an extended apparatus such as BBQ tongs).
  • Supervise young children holding sparklers, advise teens of the heat hazard of these and other small, seemingly harmless fireworks.
  • Protective glasses and gloves can also reduce risks.

 Have a happy and safe Fourth of the July!

It’s No Fish Tale – These Uncommon Hand & Upper Extremity Fishing Injuries Can Really Happen!

Located on the Gulf of Mexico and home to hundreds of lakes, it’s no wonder that the Texas coast is the playground to fishing enthusiasts far and wide.

Barracuda

unhook stingray2But even the seasoned sportsman can fall victim to some unlikely fishing injuries affecting the hand and upper extremity. In fact, fishermen (and women) put themselves in danger every time they come into contact with marine life – unpredictable behavior/aggressive and often forceful nature of a catch, prevalence of less commonly treated bacteria, unsanitary tools/equipment, poor wound care – all contributing to some common and not so common injuries that hand specialists see in a region like the Texas Gulf Coast.

Some common fishing injuries and conditions with which a Texas hand surgeon is all too familiar include:

fillet_2Many of these common injuries and conditions are treated non surgically and follow the same treatment protocol as any other patient with the same diagnosis – regardless of the cause.

Uncommon Hand & Upper Extremity Fishing Injuries and Conditions

Though there is very little that surprises a hand specialist practicing in “sportsman’s paradise,” an unusual injury associated with fishing will occasionally make its way to a Texas medical clinic.

Some of these uncommon injuries and conditions include:

  • Sting Ray Laceration
  • Fish Bite / Impalement
  • Fish Handler’s Disease / Bacterial Infection
  • Lodged Fish Bones, Fin Spine 

Unlike other injuries that break the skin, these types of fishing injuries are particularly concerning.  Fish and other marine life carry bacterial infections within their bodies, as well as on their skin, which can affect humans if certain precautions are not taken immediately. Some types of bacteria found in marine life are not commonly seen and do not respond to conventional antibiotics frequently used for infections.

Additionally, some marine life such as the Sting Ray utilize defense mechanisms that require special attention when used against a fisherman.

Sting Ray Laceration
While many sting ray injuries involve an inadvertent encounter between a foot or other lower extremity and a sting ray’s barb, some have occurred to the hand or wrist while trying to remove a sting ray from a fishing net or line.

These types of lacerations require more than bandaging.  Not only do sting ray barbs pierce like a weapon, all sting rays are armed with at least one serrated venomous spine at the base of their whip-like tail.  Short-tail sting rays have two tail spines: a slender spike in front of a large, jagged bayonet (1).

In addition to possible damage to muscle, tendons and nerves that can occur from the physical impalement of a sting ray barb, its venom is comprised of many different substances that can cause tissue to break down and die.
Some of the symptoms that Sting Ray venom can cause include:

 

  • Immediate and severe pain radiating up the affected limb
  • Bleeding and swelling in the affected area
  • Sweating
  • Faintness, dizziness and weakness
  • Low blood pressure
  • Salivation, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea
  • Headache
  • Shortness of breath (2)

 

Medical attention is recommended for all sting ray injuries.  Minimally, the wound will be cleaned with warm water to remove the venom and a tetanus booster given if it has been more than five years since the last tetanus booster. Tetanus prevention is required if the patient has never had a tetanus vaccination.  Antibiotics may also be required, and depending on the severity of the injury and amount of damage sustained (often the result of the delay in seeking treatment), surgical intervention to repair soft tissue damage and/or a period of rehabilitation may be required to restore strength to the injured limb (2).

Fish Bite and Impalement
While not every fish injury comes with a venomous double blow, the high risk of bacterial infection and soft tissue damage can be just as serious.  Many fish have sharp teeth, tails and pointed features that can easily break the skin.  Wrestling the unwilling catch onto the boat or beach can leave some sportsmen a bit worse for the wear.

 

Aside from the bacterial concerns that come with marine life, the forceful impact from a sharp feature of the fish can result in soft tissue damage that may require surgical repair and/or months of rehabilitation to restore hand and upper extremity function – as the hand alone is comprised of approximately 34 muscles, 120 known ligaments, and 50 nerves!

 

These types of deep puncture wounds or lacerations in the hand are also at high risk of infection and should be monitored closely.  A delay in the appropriate treatment can lead to complicated tenosynovitis and horseshoe abscess.  Additionally, marine life bacterial infections resulting from Mycobacterium marinum (M. marinum) do not respond to some conventional antibiotic treatment such as amoxicillin (3).

Fish Handler’s Disease
Not every fishing-related Mycobacterium marinum infection is the result of an obvious injury/wound.  A condition known as Fish Handler’s Disease can impact those frequently handling fish and generally affects the hands.  Any inconspicuous cut or small opening on the skin can allow the bacteria to enter the body.  The bacteria’s inability to proliferate in the warm body confines it to the affected area.

 

Common symptoms include swelling, tenderness, and bluish-purple spots. Fish Handler’s Disease is treated with special antibiotics used specifically for this type of bacterial infection.  Recovery can take months.

Lodged Fish Bones, Fin Spine
Occasionally in the handling of fish a fish bone or fin spine can lodge in the hand. Though this may not be painful or immediately worrisome to the injured party, these types of injuries are concerning.  Such injuries often leave residual fragments of foreign organic matter in the soft tissue, which can cause secondary infections such as Staphylococci and Streptococci (4).

 

Typically, x-rays are used first to try and identify a foreign body in the tissue, though are not always successful in doing so.  An MRI may be indicated to identify fine fin spines and tiny bones lodged in the body’s tissue. The surgical removal of the foreign body is important.  Failure to seek and remove the foreign body may lead to persistence of infection (4). Multiple surgical procedures may be required, and the patient is put on antibiotics to prevent infection. Physical therapy may be required after surgery to regain mobility of the hand.

 

If this type of injury goes untreated it can result in permanent disability and hospitalization for infection. Though the area may look as if it has healed, but is still tender, swollen, discolored, or abnormal in any way, individuals are urged to see a hand specialist.

 

Prevention and Precaution
Understanding the unique aspects of the marine life occupying the waters you’re sporting and utilizing protective gloves and garments while fishing can go a long way in injury prevention.  As the largest organ of the human body, our skin serves as a protective barrier.  When any area is compromised, our entire body is compromised. Individuals with other health conditions, such as diabetes or immune deficiency disorders should be particularly cautious and consult a hand specialist for proper wound care.

If not addressed properly, even seemingly minor fishing injuries can result in serious infection, lingering weakness or permanent disability – inhibiting participation in the sport you love.

 

References

 

Don’t Let Injuries Dampen Your Family’s Fourth of July Fun!

Coast to coast, the Fourth of the July is one of the most celebrated holidays of summer and an opportunity to enjoy every bit of what the outdoor has to offer.  Unfortunately there are thousands of injuries incurred across the United States every year at this time, as a result of firework accidents.

Ensuring family fun this Fourth of July.

Ensuring family fun this Fourth of July.

Unofficially, those at highest risk for firework injuries are teenaged boys.  Adult men closely follow in the second highest risk group, according to reports of ER physicians and orthopedic hand specialists….

It is estimated that over 40 percent of firework injuries occur to the hand and upper extremity.

Injuries most commonly occur when an ignited firework seemingly fails to go off, though explodes when checked – often in a hand.  Other injuries occur from the unexpected heat many fireworks omit.  Even an unassuming “sparkler” can heat to over 2000 degrees, capable of causing 2nd and 3rd degree burns.

The fireworks most implicated in causing injury include small firecrackers, bottle rockets and sparklers, because they are the least feared.

Among the most common hand and upper extremity traumatic injuries caused by fireworks include:

  • Burns
  • Contusions and lacerations
  • Damage to bones, muscle, ligaments and nerves 

Medical Attention for a Traumatic Firework Injury

To avoid permanent damage to the hand and wrist, it is important to seek immediate attention for a traumatic firework injury.

With approximately 50 nerves in the hand, 34 muscles moving the fingers and thumb, over 120 known ligaments, 30 major joints, 30 bones and a myriad of connective tendons, it is imperative that you follow up with a hand specialist following an ER or urgent care visit should such an accident happen.

Hand function and quality of life is dependent on not only immediate care but proper follow up to a hand injury.  If such injuries are not adequately addressed, irreversible nerve and tendon damage can impair hand feeling and movement, and the early onset of osteoarthritis from post traumatic bone and joint damage can further hinder hand function.

Reducing Risks of Traumatic Firework Injury

While many of the tips for reducing risk of hand injury trauma from fireworks seem common sense, they are often lost during the festivities surrounding such holidays and warrant repeating.

  • Ignite all fireworks with extended lighters.
  • Remain a safe distance from ignited fireworks.
  • Allow sufficient time for fireworks to go off / explode before approaching (and handle previously ignited fireworks with an extended apparatus such as BBQ tongs).
  • Supervise young children holding sparklers, advise teens of the heat hazard of these and other small, seemingly harmless fireworks.

Have a happy and safe Fourth of the July!