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Ulnar Collateral Ligament Sprain of Thumb

  • Cynthia M. Johnson, MA
Publication Type:


Ulnar Collateral Ligament Sprain of Thumb

(Skier’s Thumb; Gamekeeper’s Thumb)


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


This sprain is caused by trauma to the ligament. This can happen from a fall or sports injury. It can also be from repeated stress on the UCL.

Risk Factors

Things that raise the risk of this problem are:

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


You may have:

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


You will be asked about your symptoms, health history, and how the injury happened. A physical exam will be done. It will focus on the thumb. This is often enough to make the diagnosis.

Images may be done to find out how much harm was done. This can be done with:

  • X-ray
  • MRI or CT scan
  • Arthrography using contrast material to view the joint
Bones in the Hand.

http://services.epnet.com/getimage.aspx?imageiid=79577957BT00001_105433_1_hand bones.jpgBones in the HandNULLjpgBones in the HandNULL\\hgfiler1\intellect\images\BT00001_105433_1_hand bones.jpgNULL62NULL2010-03-232194007957_992770Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.


Treatment will depend on how severe the injury is. The goal is to ease pain and improve movement. Options are:

  • Medicine to ease pain and swelling
  • A splint or cast to keep the thumb from moving as it heals
  • Exercises to help with strength, flexibility, and range of motion

Surgery may be needed for a severe sprain or complete tear.


Most strains are due to accidents. They cannot always be prevented. The risk may be lowered by using the correct techniques when playing sports.





  • Skier’s thumb. British Society for Surgery of the Hand website. Available at: http://www.bssh.ac.uk/patients/conditions/32/skiers_thumb.
  • Sprained thumb. Ortho Info—American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons website. Available at: https://orthoinfo.aaos.org/en/diseases--conditions/sprained-thumb.
  • Ulnar collateral ligament injury of the thumb. American Society of Hand Therapists website. Available at: https://asht.org/sites/asht/files/docs/2022/UCL%20Thumb%202022.pdf.
  • Ulnar collateral ligament sprain of thumb. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/ulnar-collateral-ligament-sprain-of-thumb.


  • Warren A. Bodine, DO, CAQSM
Last Updated:

This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.