Polo Player Rides Again After Successful Surgery for Jersey Finger

X-ray images of jersey finger patient.

When a horse is stubborn, it can explode unexpectedly, injuring even the most experienced rider. That happened to Austin C. at his family’s polo club in Whitestown. He got hurt holding the reins of a client’s headstrong gelded male. After a trip to the ER for X-rays and word from the doctor on-call that he’d need surgery for jersey finger, Austin knew the best place to go for help was Indiana Hand to Shoulder Center.

Today, Austin’s left hand is healed, and he’s back to riding polo ponies and swinging mallets in fast-paced matches benefitting regional charities, big and small.

This is his story.

Austin C.’s patient story

Hometown: Lebanon
Age: 31

A Rough Start to the Season

I own and operate Hickory Hall Polo Club, Indiana's only polo club. Our horses spend winter in Florida, away from the Midwest’s cooler temperatures. They enjoy the fresh air and get fat. Then, they return to Indiana each spring. 

I’ve brought back hundreds of horses in my time. Sometimes they just don’t cooperate as well. I’ve even had times when horses have bucked me off completely, and I didn’t get hurt.

Last April was different.

It was a hot, beautiful day. I was in the arena we have here at the farm, working with a client’s horse, a dark brown, 1,200-pound gelding from Argentina. He’s a sweet boy and always has been, but I think he enjoyed his vacation a little too much.

He was the fourth horse I would get on that day, but—as I was pulling myself up—the horse jerked away and jumped to the right. I let him go, but my wedding ring was tangled under the reins, so my hand got pulled hard. I dislocated my left ring finger, ripped its tendon, and broke it in half.

Unbridled Energy, Unexpected Injury

I was pretty fortunate. The client whose horse it was is a doctor. The second the accident happened, she grabbed my finger and reset it. I didn’t know I had jersey finger. I was initially optimistic. I thought I was alright. I planned to just tape my fingers together for a few weeks so my ring finger could heal.

Everyone kept nagging me to get it checked out, so I went to the ER, where the on-call doctor checked my X-rays and explained what was wrong.

After learning that I needed surgery, I knew I had to get in to see F. Thomas D. Kaplan, M.D., FAAOS, at Indiana Hand to Shoulder Center.

Surgery With Precision

You never realize how important your ring finger is. With jersey finger, everything was more challenging. My left hand is the steering wheel in the game. My reins have to sit within my fingers. The ability to bend my injured finger again was a big deal for me.

I told Dr. Kaplan that playing polo again as soon as possible was my number one concern. I appreciated that he wanted to fix this the right way so it didn’t affect me for the rest of my life but that he also took into consideration my desire to return to riding quickly. That’s why he ultimately recommended doing the surgery the way he did it.

Dr. Kaplan finished the whole jersey finger procedure in less than two hours. I couldn’t believe I was out of there that same afternoon. The nerve block was incredible, and the anesthesiologist ensured I didn’t feel a thing.

The recovery process was methodical, and I started occupational therapy within three days after my surgery. They cut off my bandage and started to help me work on my hand’s mobility. I got rehab every week for about five weeks. They slowly upped the intensity depending on my improvement in bending and flexibility. 

Overall, it only took about ten weeks to reteach my ring finger how to move again, which was great.

playing polo after jersey finger surgery

Back in the Saddle

While healing, I wore a splint from my forearm over my hand. It meant my left hand was completely immobile, making everyday life very tricky. Doing just about anything was hard. 

As a polo player, doing nothing isn’t an option. You must exercise your horses even if you’re hurt and can’t ride. So I found creative ways to exercise my horses, like leading them around using a four-wheeler that I could drive one-handed and with the help of other staff.

I was back on a horse (against doctor’s orders—sorry, Dr. Kaplan) about five weeks after my jersey finger injury, and I have been playing polo since then. I haven’t slowed down, really. 

I know there will never be that same level of mobility again in my ring finger, and I sometimes have some residual pain when I do too much riding, but I’m doing really well. All things considered, I was really lucky. My injury could have been far worse, and I might not have gotten surgery from someone as knowledgeable as Dr. Kaplan. 

Champion-level Care

Dr. Kaplan is simply the best. He’s so professional, the best at what he does. His nurses and the whole team are exceptional as well. I appreciate that all of the doctors at Indiana Hand to Shoulder Center continually navigate research and determine the best way to help patients. 

When I’m hurt, I want that ultimate to be done. I prefer to get care from specialists like Dr. Kaplan, who think outside the box. He is always looking for the most cutting-edge ways to do things to maximize patients’ outcomes. 

Dr. Kaplan thinks of what is best for each patient rather than what medical books say you should generally do. His care is customized. My treatment was precisely what I needed.

patient recovery after jersey finger

Looking for Specialized Care After an Injury?

You don't always need surgery or occupational therapy when you’re hurt. However, many patients—like Austin C.—benefit and heal with specialized care from experts who treat patients after a complex injury like a jersey finger.

Each patient has different needs. If you’ve experienced a complex injury and need a second opinion, see one of our specialists to discuss potential treatments and get the information you need to decide what type of care would be best for you.

Jersey Finger Surgery Specialists

Since 1972, patients across Midwest and throughout the U.S. have trusted Indiana Hand to Shoulder Center’s best-in-class hand surgeons

Any time I’ve gotten care from Indiana Hand to Shoulder Center, it has been great. There is no better place to go.”—Austin C., Indiana Hand to Shoulder Center patient

How Do I See a Doctor at IHTSC?

Request an appointment today, and take the first step in healing after an on-the-job accident or other upper extremity injury.

Prefer to schedule by phone? Call us at (317) 751-5904.

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Disclaimer: The materials on this website have been prepared for informational purposes only and do not constitute advice. Without a physician's advice, you should not act or rely upon any medical information on this website. The information contained within this website is not intended to serve as a substitution for a thorough examination from a qualified healthcare provider. The display of this information is not intended to create a healthcare provider-patient relationship between the Indiana Hand to Shoulder Center and you.

Patient Stories