Skier’s Thumb (also known as “Gamekeeper’s Thumb”) is a very common and highly annoying sports injury. It happens with the metacarpophalangeal joint (MCP joint) is pushed too far backwards, causing the fluid capsule surrounding the ligaments inside the joint - and sometimes the ligaments themselves - to rupture. It’s called Skier’s Thumb because it happens frequently when skiers try to break a fall with their hands while holding their poles, putting the thumbs in the perfect position for hyperextension of the MCP joint. It is also common in basketball, volleyball and lacrosse players.
The fluid capsule in the MCP joint (and any other joint) is what keeps the bones of the joint gliding smoothly. When it’s ruptured, the friction of the bones grinding against each other as well as the probable strains on the ligaments can cause severe discomfort. The only way to prevent additional pain, prevent further damage and start the healing process after a Skier’s Thumb injury is to immobilize the joint. During the healing process, the fluid capsule is very fragile and prone to re-rupturing, so it is crucial to keep the thumb immobilized for 4-6 weeks after injury, or as prescribed by a doctor.
By packing a roll of standard hard sports tape when you go skiing, you can start the recovery process right away. If you notice disfigurement of the thumb or suspect that any of the bones in the thumb or hand may be broken, DO NOT tape it and seek immediate medical attention. If you are confident that the injury is minor and the thumb is not broken, this taping method can stabilize the joint until you can see a doctor for X-rays and prognosis. At the time of injury, ice the joint to prevent swelling and continue to do so until swelling has gone down. When there is no more swelling, do not ice the joint, as this will cause pain and reduce natural blood flow to the joint, which is crucial for healing.
This taping method is designed to prevent additional immobilization of the wrist, thus maintaining better function. For more serious injuries, immobilization of the wrist may be necessary. Use only hard sports tape.
Make sure the skin of the injured hand is dry. Start by taping the anchor using a full-width strip of tape starting in the pit of the palm. Wrap it over the meaty part of the palm just under the thumb, around the back of the hand, and over the other side of the palm - it should cross your starting point. Continue placing the strip between the thumb and index finger around to the back of the hand again. End the anchor on the back of the hand on the tape you placed there before. This anchor should be fast on the skin, but not tight, and should in no way impair movement.
Tear several 6-8” strips of tape in half lengthwise, depending on the size of the hand. Position the thumb in a relaxed position similar to the way you would hold it over a keyboard. Starting near where your anchor ended, lay the strip over the MCP joint, form a loop around the thumb, and then wrap so it ends where your anchor started (it should form a shape like the generic awareness ribbons). Repeat this going in the opposite direction (so starting from the palm), covering each previous band of tape by about half each time, and then repeat the process 2-3 more times until the thumb is completely immobilized and covered.
If there are gaps in the tape (these usually happen on the back of the hand around where the thumb and index finger meet), cover them securely to prevent tape cuts. One the tape job looks solid (no holes), repeat the anchor to seal off all your ends and complete the tape job.
Do your best to keep this tape job clean and dry for as long as possible to avoid re-dressing it too frequently, as you are most likely to re-rupture the capsule while re-taping. Never tear off the tape: when you are re-dressing, get the tape wet to break down the glue, and use small medical scissors to cut the tape off. Don’t keep one tape job on for more than a week, and if it does get wet, becomes too flexible, or just gets really gross, cut it off and re-tape it after thoroughly washing the hand in warm water and drying it completely. Disinfect and put sterile bandages on any cuts before applying tape. If you suspect that your skin is becoming infected, seek medical attention immediately.
All treatment of a Skier’s Thumb injury should be overseen by a licensed physician. This guide is an unofficial resource for immediate and day-to-day care from someone who has personally suffered (and subsequently dealt with) this injury multiple times.