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Skiers thumb recovery
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Jan 26, 2014
So like an idiot I tore the ulnar collateral ligament of my R thumb yesterday making a death slide type descent of Big Chute at Crested Butte. Anyone willing to share personal experiences of how soon they were able to resume climbing, skiing, hangboard, campusing, etc after surgical repair? Any insights appreciated! Mark E Dixon
From Sprezzatura, Someday
Joined Nov 29, 2007
570 points
Jan 27, 2014
A season of slab climbing may be in your future. MikeSLC
Joined Jul 3, 2007
37 points
Jan 27, 2014
MikeSLC wrote:
A season of slab climbing may be in your future.

Not if I can help it!

"A chance to cut is a chance to cure"
Mark E Dixon
From Sprezzatura, Someday
Joined Nov 29, 2007
570 points
Jan 27, 2014
Could be as little as a month to come back.. (From my old experiences.)
See if you have good improvement in a week or so, and then decide if
you need to take any further action (knife??)
Mostly it will be the pinching grip thingy. Crimp on flat edges should be ok..

Good luck though, as those always suck!

Joined Mar 6, 2006
1,488 points
Jan 27, 2014
Have you already established that it is a full or partial tear, and that you are a surgery candidate?
I had a partial tear last January and with a combination of a thumb brace and 8 weeks of PT (as well as all the exercises done at home), I was at 80% or so. Took a couple more months to regain full mobility and strength.

Skiing should't be a problem- while BC skiing/skinning I just put one pole away so I wouldn't be tempted. When your PT makes your brace for you you can hold a pole in the hand so that you get the grip position you would like.

Climbing- no! It is all the little things that you wouldn't think about that are really stressful on the UCL (it took a specific strength exercise that me and my PT came up with to work on clipping a rope into a biner with the hand in question.)
Same with hang boarding- your UCL gets pulled on even when hanging on fingers.

The things that really suck though are the simplest things- zippers, and zip lock bags were super painful!

Good luck.
Ryan Huetter
From Mammoth Lakes, CA
Joined Apr 10, 2006
285 points
Jan 27, 2014
Thanks for the info.

I have a complete tear and am getting surgery this afternoon.

When I picked myself up at the bottom of the run, I was thinking, "man my thumb hurts, must have sprained it" So I pull off my glove and it's sticking out sideways. Before I reflected further, I thought "hope this goes back in easily" grabbed the thumb and reduced it. I have zero stability, could easily pull it back out if I wanted to, but honestly it makes me too queasy! My big regret is that I didn't get a photo first. But my reaction was pure reflex.
Mark E Dixon
From Sprezzatura, Someday
Joined Nov 29, 2007
570 points
Jan 27, 2014
Check out this procedure
And this Doc
From Valdez, AK
Joined Oct 20, 2009
3,100 points
Jan 27, 2014
I tore mine last year transitioning off a rail skiing. Got an MRI and they put a cast on it. 6 weeks later they took it off and I started PT. After following my PTs advice to a T for the next 3 weeks. Now I am just as strong as I was before. Dont push it is my advice. You have the rest of your life to go climbing. Dont ruin it by tring to push it.

Take this with a grain of salt as I am now suffering from a torn MCl as a result of another skiing wipeout.
Tom Lausch
From Madison WI
Joined Apr 10, 2012
199 points
Jan 28, 2014
A few years ago... I had the same injury. Is it a clean ligament tare? or did it rip a piece of the bone with it?

Mine was the latter, I did it while riding dirt jumps on my mountain bike... nasty fall combined with the handlebars ripping my thumb back... etc.

It was probably 3 weeks after my injury before I had my surgery (which is a long time, because the ligament starts to retract towards the base of the thumb). Additionally, I wasn't climbing at that point either, but I can relate how long it took to get back on a downhill or dirtjump bike.

At approximately 3 weeks after the injury I had my surgery. It was apparently a success (according to my doctor). I had a month in hard casts. Each appointment, they cut it off to check motion and wound healing.

As soon as I was out of the hard cast I began occupational therapy. I went three days a week and did all the home exercises. The home training is probably just as important as what you do in therapy. The home therapy included stretching and strengthening with puddy.

It took some time, but I think it was around 2 months after the injury that I began to ride again (with a substantial brace). The limiting factor at that point was hand strength. Riding downhill runs, my hand was beyond pumped.

The risk in pushing two hard is you can re-injure the ligament or rip the pin holding the ligament out of the bone.

All said and done... approx 2.5-4 months after surgery to begin riding for me... almost a year before I felt full strength. The scars will give you motion issues and cold issues for longer.

Good luck... don't give up hope. You will get better.
Joined Apr 15, 2012
50 points
May 4, 2014
An update if anyone is interested.

I never had an MRI, just xrays. Went to surgery 2 days post-injury (props to Orthopedic Center of the Rockies, McKee Medical Center and Dr Chamberlain.) My surgeon found I had a complete tear of the UCL with a Stener lesion (so it would never have healed without surgery.) Didn't use a pin, anchored the tendon to a groove cut into the bone.

Was in a plaster splint for a week post-op then switched to a fiberglass cast.
Got the OK for hangboarding and "easy climbing." Had to do one arm hangboard hangs as the initial cast made it difficult to orient my hands properly for two handed hangs. I extended my wrist when the cast was placed, thinking this would make it easier to climb. That was a mistake as the part of the cast over the heel of my hand pushed me away from holds. The area over the thumb was also pretty bulky (probably knew what I was going to be up to!) which made this effect even worse. Finally, the cast went all the way to the base of my fingers, which especially pinched my little and ring fingers.

After two weeks I had abused the original cast enough to justify a change, and the new one was cut lower across the palm, wrist in neutral position and less of a bump over the thumb.

A few days later I went skiing for the first time. (17 days post-op) It was hard to find gloves and clothes that fit over the cast, ended up with some wool mitts under an OR overmitt. Tried VERY HARD not to fall! I had a pair of poles that clipped to a harness secured over my glove/mitt and that let me keep using poles.

The new cast was much better for climbing. I inched up the grades, finding the cast made slopers interesting to say the least. Clipping was often challenging, since I didn't have any real use of my right thumb. But way better than not climbing!

Somewhere about 8-9 weeks post-op I was switched to a flexible, removable cast. I was surprised to find my wrist was quite stiff and painful. I started OT at this point, mildly disappointed that it was only minimally painful.

My thumb was very stiff. This has gradually improved over the last month, but I still don't have full range of movement. If you imagine putting your hand flat on a table and moving your thumb out to the side, I can only get my thumb out to about 75% as opposed to 100% on the other side. I also ended up with my injured thumb at about 2/3s the strength of the good left thumb, when it should have been stronger (since I'm right handed.)

I finished out the ski season still using the flexible cast, but I've been climbing cast free for a couple of weeks now. Feels great although I've lost some grip width so big pinches are hard/impossible. My training season suffered some, but I was able to focus on mental training which I probably need even more than strength training.

Having a surgeon who understood my need to stay active was incredibly helpful.
Not back to full strength but getting close after 13 weeks. Not sure if I'll ever get full range of motion, but planning to stick with the exercises as long as I can.

YMMV, but I do suggest limiting anyone's number of ski slope death slides!
Mark E Dixon
From Sprezzatura, Someday
Joined Nov 29, 2007
570 points

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