How Do You Know If You Broke Your Thumb
A thumb sprain, also known as skier’s thumb or gamekeeper’s thumb, occurs when the ligament in your thumb stretches too much or tears. This typically happens when your thumb is forcefully stretched too far backward away from your palm or in an awkward direction. The ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) on the inside of your thumb at the first metacarpophalangeal (MCP) joint is usually involved in thumb sprains. The MCP joint is located at the base of your thumb near your palm, in the webspace. Sprains can range from a stretch or small tear in your ligament tissues to a complete tear or detachment from your bone.
Healthcare professionals use a grading system to classify the severity of sprains. Grade 1 is a mild sprain, Grade 2 is moderate, and Grade 3 is severe, requiring medical and/or surgical care.
Is My Thumb Broken or Sprained?
Both a broken (fractured) thumb and a sprained thumb can cause pain, swelling, and bruising. However, a broken thumb usually causes more intense pain, and the thumb may look deformed or misshapen. It can also cause numbness or tingling. It can be difficult to tell from the outside if your injured thumb is broken or sprained, so it’s important to get an X-ray and an exam from a knowledgeable healthcare provider to know for sure what the injury is.
A thumb sprain involves overstretched or torn ligaments, while a thumb strain involves an injury to a muscle or a tendon. Both usually cause pain, and it’s important to contact your healthcare provider for evaluation and possible imaging to determine the extent of the injury.
Who is at Risk for a Sprained Thumb?
Anyone can get a sprained thumb at any age, but people who ski or play sports that involve a ball and using hands, such as baseball, basketball, volleyball, and football, are more likely to get a sprained thumb. People at a higher risk of falling are also more likely to get a sprained thumb.
How Common is a Sprained Thumb?
Thumb sprains are a fairly common injury, especially in people who ski or play sports that involve catching, throwing, or passing a ball.
Immediate Action Required
If you suspect a broken finger or thumb, it’s important to seek medical advice as soon as possible. A broken bone may need treatment to heal properly. If you’ve had an injury and the finger or thumb is pointing at an odd angle, looks blue or feels numb, is cut and you can see bone through it, or is cut and there’s bone poking out of it, it’s crucial to go to A&E or call for an ambulance if you cannot get there yourself.
While Waiting to See a Doctor
If you suspect a broken finger or thumb, try not to move it, lift your hand up to reduce swelling, apply an ice pack, cover any cuts with a clean dressing, and take paracetamol to help ease the pain. It’s also important to remove any rings from the affected hand.
Treatments for a Broken Finger or Thumb
Treatments for a broken finger or thumb may include straightening the finger, putting it in a splint or cast, giving a tetanus injection or antibiotics if there’s a cut, and in some cases, surgery for complicated breaks. Recovery from a broken finger or thumb usually takes 6 to 8 weeks, and it may be 3 to 4 months before full strength returns to the hand.
Signs and Symptoms of a Broken Thumb
Signs of a broken thumb include severe pain and tenderness, swelling, deep bruising, limited motion, ability, or numbness, and the thumb appearing broken, crooked, or misshapen. Seeking prompt medical attention is crucial to evaluate the injury accurately and determine the appropriate treatment plan.
Broken Thumb Treatment
If you suspect that your thumb may be broken, do not attempt to treat it on your own at home. Some types of fractures may require surgery, especially if the injury occurred at the base of the thumb. To correctly realign the thumb, you may need to wear a cast for up to six weeks after surgery to ensure proper healing. Depending on the type of injury, you may need physical therapy once the cast is removed or after surgery to restore your full range of motion and strengthen the thumb.
Signs and Symptoms of a Sprained Thumb
Symptoms of a sprained thumb can include acute pain and discomfort at the base of the thumb, bruising and swelling, stiffness, tenderness of the thumb towards the palm of your hand, and a visible lump if the ligament is completely torn.
Sprained Thumb Treatments
The body’s natural healing process generally resolves minor sprains within a few weeks. The R.I.C.E. method (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation) can help manage the pain and reduce swelling, allowing the ligaments in the thumb to heal. While most mild sprains can heal without extensive medical intervention, severe sprains or those associated with significant pain, instability, or persistent symptoms may require medical attention to ensure proper diagnosis and appropriate treatment for optimal recovery.
When to Go to the ER for a Sprained or Fractured Thumb
If you experience severe pain, swelling, or immediate discomfort after the injury, notice visible deformity or misalignment in the thumb, or have difficulty moving or using your thumb without intense pain, it’s important to go to the emergency room as soon as possible. No matter how minor the injury may seem, it is always a smart idea to get your thumb checked out by a medical professional to see if surgery or other treatment options are necessary.
Thumb Fractures and Their Impact
A broken thumb can be a serious problem, affecting your ability to grasp items, and certain types of thumb fractures can increase the risk of arthritis later in life. Several bones contribute to thumb function, and all of them are susceptible to fracture. Fractures involving the joints are typically more difficult to treat and are at increased risk for an unfavorable outcome.
Causes and Symptoms of Thumb Fractures
Thumb fractures are usually caused by direct trauma, such as from a fall or a blow to the hand. They may also occur indirectly, from twisting or strong muscle contractions, as might occur in sports like wrestling, hockey, football, and skiing. Symptoms of a fractured thumb include severe pain at the fracture site, swelling, limited or no ability to move the thumb, extreme tenderness when the thumb is touched, a misshapen or deformed look to the thumb, and numbness or coldness in the thumb.
If the bone fragments of the fracture have not moved very much, or if the break is located in the middle of the bone, treatment without surgery may be possible. A padded splint can be used to prevent the bone from moving farther out of alignment. The physician will examine the injury, take a medical history, and order X-rays to determine the best course of treatment.
Thumb injuries, whether sprains or fractures, can have a significant impact on daily life. Seeking prompt medical attention and following the recommended treatment plan is crucial for proper healing and to prevent long-term complications.
Q: How can I tell if my thumb is broken or just sprained?
A: A broken thumb usually causes more intense pain, and the thumb may look deformed or misshapen. It can also cause numbness or tingling. It’s important to get an X-ray and an exam from a knowledgeable healthcare provider to know for sure what the injury is.
Q: Can a sprained thumb heal by itself?
A: The body’s natural healing process generally resolves minor sprains within a few weeks. The R.I.C.E. method (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation) can help manage the pain and reduce swelling, allowing the ligaments in the thumb to heal.
Q: When should I go to the ER for a thumb injury?
A: If you experience severe pain, swelling, or immediate discomfort after the injury, notice visible deformity or misalignment in the thumb, or have difficulty moving or using your thumb without intense pain, it’s important to go to the emergency room as soon as possible.
Q: What are the signs of a broken thumb?
A: Signs of a broken thumb include severe pain and tenderness, swelling, deep bruising, limited motion, ability, or numbness, and the thumb appearing broken, crooked, or misshapen.
Q: How long does it take for a broken thumb to heal?
A: Recovery from a broken finger or thumb usually takes 6 to 8 weeks, and it may be 3 to 4 months before full strength returns to the hand.