A broken thumb is a fracture of either of the two small bones called phalanges which make up the thumb. A broken thumb is not as common as a broken finger but is just as painful! Icing the thumb and avoiding moving it can help ease the pain until a doctor examines it for any possible complications.
Symptoms of a broken thumb
Symptoms include sudden pain at the time of injury with immediate swelling and bruising that will come on rapidly. The thumb will be particularly painful when attempting to move it and it may also click during movement.
Thumb fracture explained
Thumb fractures are not very common, partly because the bones are thicker and secondly because the thumb is opposible and shorter than the other fingers, so is often protected by bringing it across the palm of the hand.
Whilst a simple fracture to one of the phalanges is relatively straightforward to treat and heals well, a fracture may be more difficult to treat if it is an end of one of the bones, near the joint. This is especially true of the Bennett fracture and the Rolando fracture which occur at the joint between the 1st metacarpal and the wrist.
In sports, many thumb and finger fractures can be prevented by wearing the appropriate protective wear, such as gloves, padding or taping.
Treatment of a broken thumb
Initial treatment of a suspected thumb fracture includes immobilization with a splint and applying ice or cold water to reduce pain and swelling. The hand should be raised up high above the heart to ensure gravity helps with reducing bleeding and swelling. If a thumb fracture is suspected then seek immediate medical attention.
A Doctor will examine the hand for signs of any complications such as nerve or blood vessel damage. They will also perform an X-ray to confirm the diagnosis and check the fractured piece of bone is not displaced. If it is a simple fracture which has not become displaced, the thumb may be immobilised in a thumb spica cast which goes from the forearm to the hand and continues onto the thumb to immobilize the entire thumb joint. The cast is kept on for 3 to 6 weeks depending on the patients age. Younger patients will heal quicker. In some cases a more lightweight splint may be used.
In more complicated cases where there is more than one fragment or the bones are displaced, then surgery may be necessary. The surgeon may realign the fragments and fix them in place with pins. The thumb is again immobilized for several weeks. After the immobilization period, thumb exercises should be performed to help regain full strength and movement. Hand therapy putty and elastic bands are particularly good for this.