Thumb UCL Tears

Thumb UCL Tears

July 18, 2021

Paul Nielsen, MD

Orthopaedic Surgeon

What Are the Symptoms of a Thumb UCL Injury?

  • Pain in the thumb after an injury
  • Swelling in the thumb, especially the middle knuckle
  • Instability or weakness in the thumb that persists after initial swelling improves

What Are Common Causes of Thumb UCL Tears?

  • Hyperextending the thumb with a fall or injury
  • Falls while skiing and holding the pole can cause a tear in the thumb 
  • Sports injuries that forcibly bend the thumb backwards or sideways

Are There Different Types of Breaks?

  • Location
    • Each finger has 3 separate bones that can be fractured
    • Some breaks are in the joint and can lead to arthritis
  • Open Fractures
    • The bone comes through the skin and is contaminated
    • Typically are fixed emergently to decrease risk of infection

How are Thumb UCL Tears Treated?

  • Partial injuries can often be treated with immobilization such as a cast for several weeks
    • Most patients regain good function
  • Complete tears are usually fixed surgically 
    • The damaged ligament is re-attached to the bone with a small screw with sutures attached to it
    • A newer development called an “Internal Brace” reinforces the repair to allow earlier movement and use after surgery
    • Chronic tears sometimes require reconstruction to rebuild the ligament if it is scarred and damaged over time
    • The procedure is normally a same-day outpatient procedure

What Is Recovery Like After Surgery?

  • Range of motion usually starts a couple weeks after surgery to avoid stiffness 
  • A splint is used until 4-6 weeks after surgery to protect the repair 
  • Some patients require hand therapy to regain movement and strength 

Concerned about a thumb UCL tear or injury? Call 308-865-2570 to schedule an appointment with Dr. Nielsen today. Same day appointments typically available. No referral required.


About the Author

Paul Nielsen, MD is an orthopedic surgeon specializing in hand, elbow, and shoulder surgery at New West Sports Medicine & Orthopaedic Surgery in Kearney, NE.

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