• Olly Barkley’s Sprained Thumb Injury

    The Injury

    Olly Barkley dislocated his thumb whilst playing in Bath Rugby’s Heineken Cup fixture against Leinster in January 2006. Injuries to the ligaments at the base of the thumb are relatively common in rugby. The Ulnar Collateral and the Radial Collateral ligaments are the most commonly injured.

    The Treatment

    Thumb sprains heal well in around six weeks but dislocations such as Olly Barkley’s usually require surgery to restore stability to the joint. In some cases, the ruptured ligament becomes entangled in the soft tissue at the base of the thumb. This is known as a ‘Stener lesion’ and it usually indicates that surgery is appropriate as ligament healing is impaired otherwise.

    There are several surgical methods, but basically, the surgeon fixes the damaged ligament back in place using wire or sutures. Following surgery, the thumb is usually immobilised in a thumb spica for six weeks. Once the thumb spica is removed, then physiotherapy treatment is very important to regain range of thumb motion, rebuild thumb muscle strength and to resolve stiffness.

    Rugby players find that preventative taping can be very effective in improving thumb joint stability and preventing ligament re-injuries of the thumb. Professional players often use a thermoplastic splint which is specially made to protect their thumb.

    The Outcome

    Following thumb surgery and physiotherapy, Olly Barkley’s rehabilitation was complete in just 11 weeks. He returned in time for Bath Rugby’s Heineken Cup quarter-final victory over Leicester Tigers in April 2006.

    What you can do

      Consult a sports injury expert
      Use anti-inflammatory gel for pain relief
      Apply cold therapy to reduce swelling and pain
      Wear a removable wrist support for protection
      Regain dexterity with therapeutic putty
      Relieve thumb stiffness with hand therapy balls
      Improve thumb & grip strength with resistance exercises
      Wear a thumb stabiliser when skiing
      Tape the thumb for protection during sports

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