An Eye on Goalkeeper Injuries: Skier's Thumb
Dec 19, 2021
Don’t let the name fool you - Skier’s thumb injuries occur not only on the slopes but also, on the pitch. This seemingly small yet painful injury can affect goalkeepers, and it can be debilitating. What makes it worse is that it’s an injury that’s not on the radar much as a soccer injury, and it affects more goalkeepers than coaches realize. However, it’s manageable and more importantly, preventable. This post will examine what Skier’s thumb looks and feels like for goalkeepers, and what they can do to reduce their risk.
Definition/Description of Skier’s Thumb
Skier’s thumb usually occurs when an athlete falls onto the ground with an outstretched thumb. It’s more likely to occur when your hands are gripping something else - for skiers that would mean falling with an outstretched thumb while holding onto a ski pole.
For soccer goalkeepers, this could occur if they fall to the ground with an outstretched thumb during a dive or if a ball strikes the thumb during a shot.
Essentially, what happens is that there’s hyperextension of the thumb due to forced abduction (a movement that goes beyond the limits of the thumb).
- Pain at the base of the thumb in the space between thumb and index finger.
- Swelling of your thumb.
- Inability to grasp or weakness of grasp between your thumb and index finger.
- Tenderness to the touch along the index finger side of your thumb.
- Blue or black discoloration of the skin over the thumb.
- Thumb pain that worsens with movement in any or all directions.
- Pain in the wrist (which may be referred to as pain from your thumb).
Skier’s thumb can vary in severity, and each case typically falls under one of four categories or grades. Grade 1 describes the mildest form of the injury, presenting itself with stretched ligaments, no tearing, and can be improved with light stretching. Grade 2 describes a moderate form of the injury, with the presence of partially torn ligaments, and will likely need a splint or cast for 5-6 weeks to facilitate healing.
Grade 3 is a severe form of the injury, with the presence of completely torn ligaments and surgery may be necessary to repair the tearing. Grade 4 is the most extreme form of this injury, where there’s no stabilization of the thumb and surgery is 100% required for treatment.
How to Prevent Skier’s Thumb
In soccer, you’re most likely going to get Skier’s thumb as a goalkeeper (although other positions can sustain it on rare occasions). The reason for this is that goalkeepers are more likely to dive and fall in a position where the thumb might be outstretched. Also, there’s a risk that catching or stopping a shot may force the thumb beyond its limit and cause injury as well.
Although a skier's thumb is treatable, it’s painful and can sideline you for weeks. So it pays to prevent it from happening in the first place. There are a few ways to protect yourself from it.
Soccer Goalie Gloves with Finger Spines
Like many hand and finger injuries, a skier's thumb is the result of hyperextension and instability. You need some flexibility in the fingers, but too much force causes injury. That’s where finger spines come in handy.
They stabilize the fingers and thumbs just enough so that they don’t bend too much if you fall or make a catch, reducing the likelihood of a skier’s thumb injury. Our goalie gloves for men, women, and youth contain finger spines (removable), so that your digits are stable and protected from overstretching.
It’s no secret that many goalkeepers use finger-tape. Like finger spines, taping your fingers together also creates stability and prevents hyperextension of the digits. Finger-taping the thumb will also add some stability and you can use it in conjunction with finger spines for additional protection.
Conditioning & Technique
Some players are more vulnerable to skier’s thumb than others due to structural weaknesses or poor technique. Fortunately, both of these issues are manageable. You can strengthen your thumb (and fingers and hands) with exercises such as planks (which build hand strength) and grip exercises such as deadlifts or pullups. When it comes to poor technique, it helps to practice catching and diving with the thumbs open but not held back.
A Thumbs Up on Hand Injury Prevention
Skier’s thumb is not a high-priority or well-recognized injury for soccer goalkeepers. But seeing how painful and debilitating it can be, it’s one that goalkeepers should take seriously. If you’re a goalkeeper, make sure to keep your thumb safe with a combination of the right goalie gloves, conditioning, and taping. You’ll protect yourself from a tiny injury that can keep you on the sidelines for weeks.
Need a pair of goalie gloves? Browse through our selection of goalkeeper gloves to find the right fit and style for you!