A Broken Thumb Guide

A broken thumb can be a very serious injury. More severe breaks, such as a thumb metacarpal fracture will leave the sufferer unable to use their hand properly for up to 3 months, or maybe longer. Understanding what the symptoms of a broken thumb are, and how the injury is treated and cared for, is invaluable knowledge if you have injured your thumb and think it may be fractured. You will find this information and more in this broken thumb guide.

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What is a Broken Thumb?

A broken thumb is a painful injury that will take 6 or 8 weeks to heal. While the thumb heals, it will be protected using either a splint or a cast to keep it immobile. For much of the healing time, the hand will be mostly unusable as it will not be possible to form a grip.

Broken Thumb Key Facts

Unlike your fingers which have three bones and two joints, your thumb has only two bones and one joint. The bone closest to the hand itself is called the proximal phalange and the bone at the tip of the thumb is called the distal phalange.

A simple fracture of the thumb occurs when either the proximal phalange or the distal phalange is cleanly broken. A complex fracture of the thumb occurs when the knuckle or the part of the thumb that connects to the wrist is broken. A simple fracture such as a broken distal phalanx thumb injury is the more common type.

If you look at the graph below, you will see that very young people and older people are far more likely to suffer a broken thumb as the result of an accident to the hand, than people in their middle years.

Hand injury statistics

Percentage of hand injuries resulting in thumb fracture by age range.

What are the Signs and Symptoms of a Broken Thumb?

When you break your thumb, you will usually see some form of a visible symptom. Although some minor injuries such as a hairline fracture thumb injury, the visible symptoms may not be in effect. In general, if you have fractured a thumb, you will have one or more of these broken thumb symptoms:

  • The thumb itself, and possibly the hand close to the thumb will have severe pain. This pain will lessen if the thumb is held immobile but will still throb. This is one of the most common signs of a broken thumb.
  • The thumb will be swollen, and in more severe cases the entire hand may swell as well. You may also have a bruised thumb.
  • The movement of the thumb will be limited, or you may not be able to move it at all. However, with a distal phalanx fracture thumb movement may still be possible yet painful.
  • The thumb and the hand close to the thumb will be extremely tender to touch, and even moving the hand could cause a sharp pain.
  • Your thumb may stick out at an odd angle or stick straight up or down.
  • You may have a strange sensation in your thumb or the hand close to the thumb such as numbness or pins and needles.

What Are the Most Common Causes of a Broken Thumb?

Injuries such as a broken thumb tip are usually caused by some form of blunt trauma. For example, people involved in a road traffic accident are likely to suffer a broken tip of thumb. This occurs when the thumb is struck tip onwards and is unable to flex away from the source of impact.

Sporting injuries are another common cause of a broken thumb. For example, a cricketer who reaches to catch a cricket ball, if the ball were to strike his outstretched thumb, it could be bent back and break. With this type of broken thumb metacarpal damage is common, at the base of the thumb. Many sports such as football, rugby, cricket and hockey are all high-risk sports when it comes to the likelihood of suffering a fractured thumb.

When Should You Seek Medical Care for a Broken Thumb?

If you have injured your hand, and the injury exhibits any of the signs of fractured thumb outlined above, then you need to seek medical attention. While you are seeking medical help, you can do the following to take care of the injury:

  • Keep your entire hand immobilised using a sling if you have one. If you don’t have a sling, then use your undamaged hand to gently cradle your damage one to your chest.
  • If you can, keep your entire hand raised above the level of your heart. This will help to keep swelling down.
  • If you have an ice pack, apply it to the injured thumb. If you don’t have an ice pack, you can wrap a packet of frozen vegetables in a hand towel and use this instead.
  • If the wounded thumb is bleeding, try applying gentle pressure using a bandage or surgical pad to stop the bleeding.

How to Get a Free Expert Orthopaedic Assessment for Your Broken Bone Report

When your doctor produces a broken bone report for your fractured thumb injury, we can tell you whether you are eligible to receive a free expert orthopaedic assessment of your broken bone report.

Such a free expert opinion will help to discover if you are being treated correctly, and if there are any further recommendations for treatment to ensure you recover as quickly as possible. Contact us today to see if you can get a 100% expert orthopaedic assessment of your broken thumb.

How is a Broken Thumb Diagnosed?

Before your broken thumb treatment can begin, the extent and severity of the fracture need to be discovered. This is done in two ways.

Firstly, you will be examined by a medical professional when you arrive at the hospital. This initial consultation is used to make an assessment of whether your thumb is fractured or not.
Secondly, if following the initial inspection, the medical professional believes your thumb may be broken, you will then be sent to have your thumb x-rayed.

How is a Broken Thumb Treated?

The type of broken thumb treatment you receive will depend upon the severity of your injury.
For simple fractures, treating a broken thumb is a purely nonsurgical procedure. This will generally consist of keeping the thumb immobilised for several weeks using a broken thumb cast or splint whilst it heals. A specially shaped broken thumb cast can be used in cases where the proximal phalange has been broken, called a spica cast. This special type of cast allows for broken thumb recovery while leaving the hand at least partially able to move.

Complex fractures will often require a surgical procedure before the thumb can be immobilised using a cast or a splint. In these cases, the bones of the thumb will need to be realigned first, by pinning the bones in place using rods and screws. These will be removed when the thumb is almost healed.

Alternatively, your doctor may recommend some form of external fixation device, such as combined splint and frame to keep the thumb bones aligned whilst they start to knit back together.

What Free Private Treatment Can I Qualify For?

Broken thumb NHS treatment is generally very good. However, to have the best chance of healing fully, and as rapidly as possible, private medical treatment can be a significant upgrade over NHS treatment.

There may be a range of free medical treatment available in your area. We may be able to put you in touch with a broken thumb specialist, to help reduce your broken thumb recovery time. Call us now, all we need to know is your postcode, and we can let you know right away whether any free private treatment is available for a broken thumb in your area.

Caring for Your Broken Thumb at Home

Once you have been treated for a broken thumb at the hospital and sent home, you need to know how to how to treat broken thumb injuries yourself at home. It could be several months before you regain the use of your thumb fully. Following the tips below will make sure your recovery time is as short as possible:

  • Try to avoid using the damaged hand at all. You will likely not be able to grip anything with your thumb anyway, so keep the entire hand immobilised at least for the first few weeks.
  • You can use over-the-counter painkillers to help manage the pain. If severe pain persists after a few days of being sent home from the hospital, then contact your doctor again.
  • Keep your damaged hand above the level of your heart whenever you can. This will help to keep swelling to a minimum for the first few days.
  • To reduce the initial swelling, use an ice pack several times a day, applied directly to the injured thumb.
  • Once you feel your injury is well on the road to being mended, talk to your doctor about simple exercises that you can do, to help prepare your thumb for the cast coming off.

Is There Any Other Good Treatment I Can Get for Free?

There may be other free treatment you can receive for your fractured thumb. This could be medical supplies in the form of a properly fitted sling to keep your hand immobilised whilst your thumb begins to heal. Call us today to find out what free treatment is available in your area. It will take us less than 30 seconds to find this information for you.

Follow Up for a Broken Thumb

A broken thumb is generally treated by the NHS as a minor injury. Once you have been treated at the hospital and sent home, you will arrange to either visit your local Minor Injuries Unit or your GP for a check-up around two weeks after the broken thumb occurred. At this time, you will be told if you need to take any special action to help your thumb heal better, and you will generally be told how much longer you need to keep your whole arm in a sling.

How Long Does a Broken Thumb Take to Heal?

When you are sent home from the hospital with a cast or splint for your broken thumb, you will need to keep wearing it for up to 6 weeks. Furthermore, it is recommended that for the first 2 weeks, you keep your whole hand immobilised in a sling. After two weeks, the pain should have dissipated and jarring of moving the hand will no longer be something you need to avoid, so you can remove your sling. Make sure you ask your doctor when it is safe to do this. More than likely, you will be told how long you need to keep on your sling at the follow-up session with your GP or local Minor Injuries Unit.

As your thumb heals, you may be advised by your doctor to begin simple exercise to prepare your thumb for when the cast comes off. However, you should note that general weakness of the thumb and hand will persist for up to 3 months after the cast comes off. This is mainly due to the fact that the lost strength and dexterity in the thumb will need to be regained by a series of physiotherapy sessions, combined with exercises you can do at home.

How Can I Recover Safer and Possibly Faster?

As can be seen from above fractured thumb healing time, especially the recovery time after the cast has come off when the hand and thumb will not function at 100% is quite long.

We might be able to shorten this recovery time but finding out if you are eligible for any local free private physiotherapy in your area. Private physio will get your hand back functioning at 100% much quicker. Call us to find out if you can claim some.

What is the Prognosis for a Broken Thumb?

As long as the bones have been set properly before the healing begins, then a fractured thumb will generally heal well. If internal fixation is used, there is a possibility of infection. If external fixation is used there is a chance of tenderness around the structure used to immobilise the thumb.

Generally, for a simple broken thumb healing time will be no longer than 8 weeks, and almost full functionality of the hand will return within 3 months. For complex fractures, the thumb will have generally healed within 8 weeks, yet extra therapy and recovery may be needed to achieve full functionality of the hand for several months.

Overall, the majority of people who suffer a broken thumb make a full recovery within three months and regain 100% use of their thumb and had once fully healed and recuperated.

What are the Possible Complications with a Broken Thumb?

With a fractured thumb how long to heal depends upon whether any complications occur during the healing process. The two main complications that are seen with a broken thumb are nonunion and rotation, and these can be explained as:

  • Nonunion – this occurs when the two parts of the broken bone are too far apart to actually start knitting together. This usually happens if the bones have not been set properly before the thumb is immobilised. Sometimes, flesh can be forced into the break, preventing the two parts of bone from starting to knit together.
  • Rotation – this occurs when the two parts of bone have become twisted before they start to knit back together. When they do heal, they will heal crookedly. If the injury heals crookedly, the thumb grip will be misaligned, which could lead to a general lessening of the utility of the damaged hand.

Do You Think Your Doctor Might Have Missed Something About Your Injury?

Sometimes doctors do make mistakes, despite their best efforts. If you believe that you have been given incorrect or insufficient treatment for a broken thumb, you will need to learn more about your injury to make a good judgement. The websites below give more detailed information on issues related to a broken thumb than this short guide:

NHS – Broken Finger/Thumb Information
NHS – Guide to Physiotherapy
British Society for Surgery to the Hand – Information on Hand Fractures

Are There Any Long-Term Health Issues Caused by a Broken Thumb?

As with any injury, there is a chance that a broken thumb, especially a severe complicated fracture, could have long-term health effects. There are two main long-term side effects of a broken thumb, and these are:

  • Arthritis – this occurs when the cartilage that sits between knuckle joints is eroded or rubbed away by bone scar tissue after the broken thumb has healed. This can lead to stiffness and pain in the knuckle of the thumb in later life. In some cases, the damage can be at least partially corrected through surgery. In cases where surgery is not viable, general anti-inflammatory medication can help, as well as painkillers.
  • Weakened grip – because your grip is generally a pincer style of movement between the four fingers of your hand and your thumb, a severe fracture of the thumb can weaken the grip. This means that your entire hand will have less function, you will not be able to grip and lift heavy weights, and you may not to be able to manage actions that require a precise grip.

Contact Us to Find Out if You Qualify for Free Private Treatment

If you have suffered a broken thumb, you might qualify for some form of free private treatment. This might take the form of free medical supplies such as a high-quality sling to help with the recovery of your broken thumb. It might be in the form of free physiotherapy sessions that can help you recover faster and better from your broken thumb. You might be eligible to receive a free expert orthopaedic assessment of your broken bone report, this will help you understand if you need any further treatment for your broken thumb to make sure you have the best chance of healing fully and quickly.

All you need to do is give us a quick call, we will be able to find out if there is any form of free private medical care available in your area. It will typically take us less than a minute to find this information for you, so call us today, you really have nothing to lose.