In an interview to the Detroit Free Press that was published February 11, 2021, former number one overall pick in the 2009 NFL Draft and former Detroit Lions quarterback, current Los Angeles Rams QB Matthew Stafford revealed to Mitch Albon the number of injuries he was dealing with in the 2020 NFL Season. He states he dealt with a torn UCL in his throwing hand, torn UCL in his left elbow, broken cartilage on his 8th rib, tore “something” in his left knee, and a subtalar right ankle sprain. Dealing with list of injuries throughout the entire season is nothing new for any NFL player. The season is long and all players will go through the ups and downs with their body. The UCL Thumb injury Stafford has suffered in similar to what Drew Brees suffered a few seasons ago.
Today we are going to focus on the UCL of the Thumb. These type of injuries have also been called Skier’s Thumb or Gamekeeper’s Thumb. The ulnar collateral ligament of the thumb, is a ligament that crosses the metacarpophalangeal joint and stabilizes the ulnar side of the joint.
The ulnar collateral ligament of the thumb functions as a primary stabilizer of the metacarpophalangeal joint. There can be severity level of the injury can goes as followed:
- Grade I – overstretch of the UCL
- Grade II – overstretch and partial torn UCL, some loss of function
- Grade III – completely torn UCL, and will require surgery
- The middle portion of the UCL could be torn
- One of the anchoring points of the ligament could be torn from the bone and create an avulsion fracture (chip of bone).
Damage can occur when the thumb is pulled away from the palm, so either through extension of the thumb or abduction of the thumb. forcibly. With quarterbacks, it usually occurs when the quarterback’s thumb hits the helmet/hand of an rushing defender, falls on their outstretched hand, or if their hand gets hit when they are dropping back and getting ready to throw.
Not only is instability at the metacarpophalangeal joint a possibility (associated with Grade II or III) but pain, swelling, grasping, and difficultly or inability to hold your thumb to your index finger.
Matthew Stafford has announced that his UCL in the thumb is partially torn it has not been reported if he’s going to undergo surgery or just let it heal and then begin rehabilitation. If he does opt for surgery, he is likely casted 3-4 months before starting rehabilitation, and not able to use this thumb for at least the first 6 weeks following surgery. Protocols are determined by the surgical team, team physicians and doctors, and his own team. I don’t expect him to miss time in 2021-2022 NFL regular season because of this injury. He’s certainly going to be limited during their off-season program and may be a gradual ramp up during training camp.