TB 12’s Hand Injury – Thumbs Up or Down for the AFC Championship Game?

An important disclaimer as you read this… the news of Tom Brady’s right hand/thumb injury this week has me more than a little shaken up, so apologies in advance for any mis-spellings, grammatical errors, or wildly uncontrolled hyperbole. I am officially shook…

Live look at me hearing that Brady didn’t practice today

By now anyone who follows sports knows that Patriots quarterback Tom Brady somehow injured his hand in practice yesterday – the exact mechanism of his injury wasn’t announced but speculation is that someone, likely a running back, ran into his right hand. Subsequent x-rays were apparently negative for fracture, but Brady was seen wearing a glove on his throwing hand at practice today with what looked like a brace on under the glove.

While Brady dressed for practice, he was listed as a non-participant and was not seen actually throwing by any of the media present for the first part of practice (this is where I start to freak out again, stay with me here). This has of course led to all kinds of speculation about what his actual injury might be and what that means for this weekend and a possible Patriots Super Bowl appearance. While I have no inside info on this (other than the pit of roiling acid that passes for my stomach since I heard about this), I’ll put forth my best guess as to what could be wrong with Brady’s hand and what that means moving forward.

The first question you have to ask is, What kind of injury could Brady have actually sustained to his hand/thumb by someone running into him? The official word was that he had a “jammed hand”, which is basically Patriots-speak for, “He injured his hand, we’re not telling you anything”. When I think of what kind of injury he could have sustained by someone running into his hand or possibly during an attempted handoff, I think of a sprain/tear of the ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) of the thumb.

Drawing of a torn ulnar collateral ligament

This ligament is at the base of the thumb on the inside of the thumb, towards the hand. It is a commonly injured ligament in sports – baseball’s Mike Trout missed two months with a torn UCL this year and Dustin Pedroia actually tore his in the first week of the 2016 season but managed to play the whole season before having it fixed surgically after the season. The ligament can be injured with a fall directly onto the thumb or by an injury where the thumb is “jammed” and pulled away from the hand. This is something that could definitely happen even in a low-intensity football practice, especially if there was a botched handoff forcing Brady’s thumb away from his hand. Additionally, in the picture of Brady’s thumb that everyone has been scrutinizing more than the Zapruder film, there seems to be a brace or wrap at the base of his thumb, which is where one would wear a brace for a UCL injury.

So, assuming I’m right, and I’m not sure I want to be, what does that mean moving forward? Injuries to the UCL range in severity from a sprain of the ligament, which would cause pain in the short-term but no long-term issues, to a full tear which would cause pain and weakness or instability with a grasping motion. A grasping motion such as… gripping a football. Yeah, I’m freaking out. If Brady does indeed have a UCL injury, he could likely play through it in at least the short-term with a brace and a boatload of anti-inflammatories (thankfully for us Pats fans Brady is already eating an anti-inflammatory, nightshade-free diet, soooo….). The question would be how effective he would be for the rest of the playoffs – if he has a great deal of pain or instability, it could affect his throwing to a significant degree. If it’s a more minor sprain, he might very well be near or at full strength and accuracy. Here’s hoping for the latter and not the former, but until we see him actually throwing a ball Sunday, I’ll be over here in the corner like…

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