Lahey Health is now part of Beth Israel Lahey Health.  Explore Lahey locations below or reach Lahey Hospital & Medical Center, Beverly Hospital and Winchester Hospital.

by Woods M

Definition

An ulnar collateral ligament sprain (UCLS) is an injury to the ligament of the first thumb joint. A ligament is a strong band of tissue that connects bone to bone. A sprain is tearing of a ligament.

Causes

An ulnar collateral ligament sprain is caused by trauma to the ligament, such as a fall or acute sports injury. The injury can also be chronic due to repeated stress on the ligament.

Risk Factors

Factors that may increase your risk of an ulnar collateral ligament sprain include:

  • Sports, such as skiing, football, biking, and soccer
  • Falling

Symptoms

Symptoms may include:

  • Pain
  • Bruising
  • Swelling
  • Weakness when holding or squeezing things
  • Decreased range of motion

Diagnosis

You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. You will also be asked how the injury occurred. A physical exam will be done, focusing on your thumb and its range of motion. The diagnosis can be made based on what you were doing at the time and physical exam.

If the doctor thinks you have a severe injury, imaging tests may be ordered to look for a full tear of ligament or broken bones. This can be done with:

  • X-ray
  • MRI or CT scan
  • Arthrography using contrast material to view the joint
Bones in the Hand
IMAGE
Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

Treatment

Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you. Treatment will be based on the severity of your injury. Options include:

Supportive Care

A cast or splint may be needed to keep the thumb from moving. This will help protect, support, and keep the thumb stable while it heals.

An exercise or rehabilitation program may be needed to help regain strength and motion.

A cast or splint may be needed to keep the thumb from moving. This will help protect, support, and keep the thumb stable while it heals.

An exercise or rehabilitation program may be needed to help regain strength and motion.

Surgery

A fracture, severe sprain, or complete tear of the ligament may require surgical repair.

A fracture, severe sprain, or complete tear of the ligament may require surgical repair.

Prevention

You can reduce the risk of getting an ulnar collateral ligament sprain by learning and using correct technique in sports. However, in many cases, it cannot be prevented.

RESOURCES

Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians   http://www.familydoctor.org 

Ortho Info—American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons   http://www.orthoinfo.org 

CANADIAN RESOURCES

Canadian Orthopaedic Foundation  http://www.canorth.org 

Health Canada  http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca 

References

Skier’s thumb. British Society for Surgery of the Hand website. Available at: http://www.bssh.ac.uk/patients/conditions/32/skiers%5Fthumb. Accessed February 13, 2017.

Sprained thumb. Ortho Info—American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons website. Available at: http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=a00022. Updated May 2010. Accessed February 13, 2017.

Ulnar collateral ligament injury of the thumb. American Society of Hand Therapists website. Available at: https://www.asht.org/sites/default/files/docs/2016/UCL%20Injury%20of%20the%20Thumb%202016.pdf. Accessed February 13, 2017.

Ulnar collateral ligament sprain of thumb. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T115627/Ulnar-collateral-ligament-sprain-of-thumb. Updated April 14, 2014. Accessed February 13, 2017.

Revision Information