Thumb Thing Wrong

By Terry Johnes

Going to the Las Vegas convention was a very bitter sweet experience for me. On one hand, Vegas was to be my first convention since Los Angeles and mark my return to the juggling subculture after a four year hiatus. On the other hand, it was also going to be the last bit of juggling I did for 4 months.

Immediately upon my return home I was to have surgery to repair my detatched ulnar collateral ligament. While I did the catastrophic damage (the actual detachment) on the golf course, I had had problems with my thumb for years. In fact, most of my problems started around the same time I began juggling clubs.

Before I continue, let me explain what I have learned about the ulnar collateral ligament. The UCL runs along the inside of the thumb, stabalizing it against pressures attempting to bend it away from the hand. According to Dr. Merlin Hamer of Scripps Clinic, the UCL is most frequently damaged by skiers. The skier plants a pole....the pole stops....the skier continues, bending the thumb away from the hand.

Now consider throwing back crosses. The hands catch the club head high with the thumb parallel to the ground (or at least mine do). The handle of the club hits the thumb, forcing it away from the hand. By no means is this force as great as a skier hurtling down a mountainside, but over time the ligament may get stretched out enough where another activity can finish the job.

From the people I spoke to at Vegas, I would venture to say this is not a common injury but I did find out that I was not the only one afflicted. After a lengthy conversation with young juggling stud Sean McKinney, he was heard to mutter, "Ok, what do I do now that my juggling career is over?" At the time, Sean had not been diagnosed and I wish him the best.

What can he expect if there is a problem with the ulnar collateral ligament? The worst case senerio is having the ligament replaced with a pulmaris tendon or other spare tendon the body thankfully gives us. In the event of a simple detachment (yeah right...simple) the surgeon can reattach the ligament using a pin. I have to tell you, it is weird seeing a piece of metal protruding from the skin.

After surgery, 4-6 weeks is spent in a cast protecting the protruding metal and your thumb. Following removal of the cast, there are hours of rehab to look forward to. I think they will brace my thumb following the elimination of the cast, but I can't say for sure. All I CAN say for sure is that typing is a bitch in a cast.

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