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Skier's or Gamekeeper's Thumb: Care Instructions

Skeletal view of hand, with detail of complete tear of ulnar collateral ligament in thumb


Skier's or gamekeeper's thumb is a tear of the ulnar collateral ligament. This injury happens when your thumb is pulled back or to the side, away from your fingers. It often happens when skiers fall on an outstretched hand while holding a ski pole.

Rest and other measures at home can help heal a mild injury. You may need to wear a splint or a cast for 4 to 6 weeks. If your injury is severe or not improving, your doctor may refer you to an orthopedic or hand specialist to decide if you need surgery.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse advice line (811 in most provinces and territories) if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

How can you care for yourself at home?

  • Put ice or a cold pack where your thumb connects to your hand. Do this for up to 20 minutes at a time. Try to do this every 1 to 2 hours for the next 3 days (when you are awake) or until the swelling goes down. Put a thin cloth between the ice and your skin.
  • Rest your thumb and hand.
  • Ask your doctor if you can take an over-the-counter pain medicine, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), or naproxen (Aleve). Be safe with medicines. Read and follow all instructions on the label.
  • Follow your doctor's directions for wearing an elastic bandage, splint, or cast on your hand.

When should you call for help?

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor or nurse advice line if:

  • You have increasing pain or swelling.
  • You have trouble moving or using your thumb.

Where can you learn more?

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Care instructions adapted under license by your healthcare professional. If you have questions about a medical condition or this instruction, always ask your healthcare professional. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information.