What is Thumb Fractures / Broken Thumb?
The thumb is made up of two bones. The first bone, or the distal phalange, extends from the thumbís tip to its knuckle while the second bone, the proximal phalange, extends from the knuckle to the thumbís base. This is also the area of webbing between the thumb and the fore finger.
Thumb fractures can occur anywhere on the thumb but the most serious breaks occur near the joints, mostly at the base of the thumb, close to the wrists.
There are different types of thumb fractures and they are classified according to the region of break. Fractures may occur along the long bone or the metacarpal shaft of the thumb. On the other hand, the Bennett and Rolando fractures occur at the base of the thumb and involve the joint between the metacarpal of the thumb and a wrist bone.
Fractures that occur at the joint are complicated and are difficult to treat. In many cases, the risk of an unfavorable outcome is quite high. You can reduce the risk of a thumb fracture by using protective taping, padding, or other protective gears.
Causes and Symptoms of Thumb FracturesThumb fractures are usually the result of an accident. They mostly occur when you fall or when you pull a thumb back while catching a ball. They may also be caused when you are involved in sports such as wrestling, hockey, football, and skiing. If you have a history of calcium deficiency or bone disease, you may be more prone to fractures in general, including thumb fracture.
Symptoms of Thumb Fracture include:
- Severe pain and swelling at the site of fracture
- Tenderness / numbness at the site
- Limited / no ability for thumb movement
- Deformed thumb
Diagnosis and Treatment of Thumb FracturesIf a thumb injury has taken place, it is advisable to seek medical aid as quickly as possible. Any delay in getting medical attention will worsen the swelling and cause difficulty in aligning the fractured pieces of the bones and negatively impacting the outcome.
Your doctor will conduct a physical exam of the injured thumb and surrounding sites find out how the injury took place and order an X-ray. To minimize movements of the injured thumb, till treatment is finalized, your doctor may recommend that you use a padded thumb splint.
If the fracture has occurred in the middle of the bone, and if the fragments are in alignment, your surgeon will advise you to wear a specially designed cast (spica cast) for 4 - 6 weeks, to help hold the broken bones in place.
Depending on the location of the fracture and the degree of displacement of the broken fragments your surgeon might suggest surgical treatment. This is to align the bones and to speed up the process of healing.
The techniques used may be internal fixation or external fixation. Internal fixation involves holding the fragmented pieces of the bones inside the body with the help of wire, pins, plates, and screws while external fixation involves supporting the fragments using pins held in place by an external device.
After the surgery, a splint or a cast must be worn for about 4-6 weeks. If healing is confirmed with the help of imaging studies, physical therapy is recommended. This is to restore stretchability and movement to the hand. Depending on the severity of the injury, it may take more than 3 months to use the hand as before.
One common physical therapy for the hand is the rubber ball exercise which can help to strengthen and increase flexibility in your thumb. It is done with the help of a small stress ball or a rubber ball just enough to fit into the palm of your hand.
Grasp the ball in the centre of your palm and squeeze it tightly for 5 seconds. Relax and repeat this step again ten times. Do three sets of ten exercises daily. You may buy this ball at a sports shop or you may acquire it from an occupational therapist.
If the bones are aligned and rested they tend to heal well. In case an external fixation is used there may be some tenderness around the site and also, an increased possibility of infection. It must be noted that the chances of developing arthritis in the hand are higher for a person who has had a thumb fracture.