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Last week, Philadelphia 76er Joel Embiid suffered an injury to his finger, requiring him to leave the game against the Oklahoma City Thunder. It’s now come to light that his injury, a torn radial collateral ligament in the fourth metacarpal, was more serious, requiring surgery.
Embiid experienced a common injury seen by both professional and amateur players alike. It usually happens when an axial load strikes the finger — something that happens often in basketball.
While Embiid received immediate care from his medical team on the sidelines, many people who experience a radial collateral ligament tear in the finger wait to see if it heals in a few days. But it can be a painful injury that should be evaluated right away. If it’s severe enough, as in Embiid’s case, it could require surgery to repair.
“It’s important to seek care from a hand surgeon, because torn finger ligaments can lead to long-term problems if not treated,” said AdventHealth hand surgeon George White, MD. “Severely torn ligaments aren’t likely to heal on their own and could cause pain and functional problems issues if not surgically repaired,” he adds.
More About Joel Embiid’s Injury
First, what is the radial collateral ligament? Each finger on your hand has a radial collateral ligament at each finger joint to stabilize it. These ligaments allow you to spread your fingers with an open palm.
In Embiid’s case, he tore his radial collateral ligament on his fourth metacarpal, which is the ring finger. Symptoms of this injury include finger pain instability and significantly decreased range of motion.
Treatment for a Torn Radial Collateral Ligament
While it’s not known the exact extent of Embiid’s injury, it’s likely that his radial collateral ligament suffered a significant tear, which required surgical repair from a skilled and trained hand surgeon.
Dr. White advises, “In the heat of a game it’s not a preventable injury, but a torn radial collateral ligament does require prompt treatment, rehabilitation and follow-up.”
“Anyone with a suspected radial collateral ligament tear can go to an emergency department and then be referred to a hand surgeon,” he adds. “A hand surgeon is best equipped to figure out the exact nature of your ligament tear and any other related injuries.”
And seeing a surgeon doesn’t mean you’ll need surgery. You’re likely to get an X-ray and pain-reducing medicine, like Tylenol or Aspirin. But if the injury is severe or your finger isn’t healing correctly after some time, surgery may be an option.
Rehabilitation to Get Back to Your Best
After his surgery, it’s likely that Embiid will be required to regain his finger strength and stability with physical therapy.
For a professional basketball player, this is a significant injury because it can affect the ability to grasp and throw the ball. That’s why physical therapy is so important after surgery.
“After surgery, physical therapy helps patients safely gain their strength, stability, function and range of motion back as the repaired ligament heals,” explains Lisa Cody, an AdventHealth certified hand therapist.
She adds, “Professional athletes who are required to perform at such a high level might have additional therapies and more intense physical therapy regimens to regain their function for optimal performance. Every patient has different needs, and we work with hand surgeons to develop a physical therapy treatment plan that is safe and effective for each individual.”
What to Do If This Happens to You
Sometimes tearing a finger ligament is the unavoidable result of giving it your all at the ball in the heat of the game. While you might not be able to avoid it, you can treat it — and yourself — right with trusted experts there to guide you.
Getting skilled care and rehabilitation will help you get back on the court and ready to play just as hard as before. That’s why our experts are here — to help you keep doing what you enjoy and feel whole.
To find a hand surgeon like Dr. White or learn more about upper extremity care, visit our AdventHealth Ortho Institute website.