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Thumb Injuries in Sports

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The thumb: It has allowed humans to develop into the most dominant species on the planet. Without it, we wouldn’t have the Mona Lisa, the Seven Wonders of the World, or quarterbacks that can complete a pass while scrambling out of the pocket when their protection breaks down. You can see just how important the “lone wolf of the hand” is in life and sports, and when Bears quarterback Jay Cutler was sidelined by a thumb injury, I started getting a lot of questions about thumb injuries in athletics. They’re fairly common in sports since the thumb is separate from the other fingers, exposing it to some unique injuries. Lucky for you, my background allows me to explain what a couple of the more common injuries are.

Thumb Injuries in SportsThe Jam
We’ve all heard of a “jammed finger” before as they’re fairly common in sports and everyday life. The thumb is as much of a victim to these injuries as the other fingers are. This type of injury occurs when some sort of impact occurs that forces the bones of a finger to be pushed together in a way that irritates the structures in the finger joint, resulting in pain, swelling, and stiffness. Luckily, most jams do not cause significant damage to the bone and can be treated with rest and taping. Usually the symptoms for a jammed finger will clear within 2-3 weeks if treated properly.

The Break
While not as common as jams, a “break” or fracture of the thumb is still a somewhat common injury that often occurs through some sort of impact. They are often treated with immobilization to allow the involved bones to heal correctly. Occasionally, the injured bone moves or is prone to moving and a doctor will need to insert pins to help ensure the bones heal properly. Healing time for a fracture is typically 4-6 weeks depending on the injury.

According to media reports, in Jay Cutler’s case, he had a special type of fracture known as a Bennett’s fracture. Before you ask, no, this has nothing to do with Earl Bennett. In a Bennett’s fracture, the thumb is bent back in a way that causes damage to the bone that connects the thumb to the wrist (the 1st metacarpal for you Jeopardy players). In Cutler’s case, the piece of bone that broke off shifted, so doctors needed to put it back in place with screws and pins to make sure it healed correctly. Here’s a cool little factoid: during surgery, Jay Cutler held onto a sterilized football to make sure the surgery wouldn’t affect his grip.

The Sprain
When bones aren’t involved in a thumb injury, a ligament is usually hurt, which is referred to as a sprain. A sprain can occur to any ligament in the thumb, but the ligament at the inner base of the thumb, known as the ulnar collateral ligament, is the most commonly injured.  This injury, referred to as Gamekeeper’s or skier’s thumb, most commonly occurs when someone tries to break a fall and their thumb gets bent back towards their forearm. Treatment usually requires immobilization to heal properly and, if bad enough, may require surgery.

While there are certainly other injuries that can occur to the thumb, these are by far the most common in sports. If you’re concerned about a potential thumb injury you may have, you can always get a free assessment at an Athletico physical therapy clinic near you. Please click the button below to schedule yours now!

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The Athletico blog is an educational resource written by Athletico employees. Athletico bloggers are licensed professionals who abide by the code of ethics outlined by their respective professional associations. The content published in blog posts represents the opinion of the individual author based on their expertise and experience. The content provided in this blog is for informational purposes only, does not constitute medical advice and should not be relied on for making personal health decisions.

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