Without our thumbs, performing everyday tasks like typing, texting, and grasping objects would quickly become a nightmare. If you're suffering from a sprained thumb, you know know how important that first digit really is. Besides the loss of functionality, the pain and stiffness put a definite damper on daily life. The good news is there are many effective at-home and professional treatments, depending on the severity of your sprain. Use this guide to learn more about sprains, their causes and symptoms, and effective treatments.
A sprained thumb is defined as damage to the connective tissue between the interphalangeal joint (a sprained thumb knuckle) or the metacarpophalangeal joint (a sprained ligament in your thumb’s base).
Types of Sprained Thumb Joints
Sprained thumb joints come in two broad categories, each with their own symptoms and causes. Understanding your sprain begins with knowing the difference between the two categories.
Hyperextension Sprained Thumb
Hyperextension describes a sprained thumb ligament caused by backwards motion, away from the inside of the palm.
Hyperflexion Sprained Thumb
Hyperflexion is caused by forceful or repetitive motion toward the inside of the palm.
Sprained Thumb vs. Broken Thumb
One of the most common questions is whether a patient is experiencing a broken or sprained thumb. A sprained thumb is an injury to the ligaments and other soft tissues between joints, and a broken thumb involves damage to the hard tissue, specifically the bone.
In either of these cases, you are likely to experience significant pain and difficulty moving the thumb. You can identify a sprain by the characteristic swelling. However, an X-ray is the only way to know for sure, so be sure to see your doctor for a professional diagnosis.
Causes of a Sprained Thumb
A sprained thumb ligament can be caused by any activity that requires strenuous or repetitive use of your thumb. Texting is one of the most common culprits, but activities like cooking, writing, and opening jars can also cause a sprain.
Pre-existing conditions make an individual more susceptible to such injuries.
As we age, the soft tissues that hold our joints together weaken, causing arthritis pain and stiffness. While distressing in its own right, arthritis also makes the joints of older adults more fragile and easily sprained. Luckily, sprains caused by repetitive motion are usually mild and will heal more quickly than those caused by a more violent impact.
The most common cause of a sprained thumb is falling. Depending on how you naturally brace against impact, the thumb can hyperextend or hyperflex, causing damaging your soft tissues. In these cases, damage can be moderate to severe, resulting in noticeable bruising or swelling.
Sprained Thumb Symptoms
The signs of a sprained thumb are often clear, immediate, and easily identifiable. Symptoms can last days or weeks depending on the severity of the sprain.
Mild to severe pain: The mildest cases feel similar to a pulled or exhausted muscle, and severe cases can feel like a broken bone.
Bruising: You'll notice a characteristic bruise around the thumb.
Stiffness: Tasks such as writing, typing, or texting will become difficult.
Swelling: A comparison with your uninjured hand will reveal significant swelling.
What does a sprained thumb look like?
A sprained thumb is often identified by bruising, redness, or swelling around the affected joint. ( Image Reference).
Using visual cues, you can identify a thumb sprain quickly and easily. You'll see significant bruising and swelling in the area around the joint, but unlike with broken bones, there should be no obvious deformity of the thumb.
Sprained Thumb Test
If you are unsure if your thumb is sprained, consult your doctor. They will perform a ligament stress test and prescribe the correct treatment for your injury.
Sprained Thumb Treatment
Knowing how to treat a sprained thumb is crucial to making a full recovery. For mild and some moderate cases, at-home treatment options may be sufficient. When it comes to more serious sprains, learning how to heal a sprained thumb from your doctor is key.
How to Treat a Sprained Thumb at Home
Deciding what to do for a sprained thumb depends on the injury's severity. A mild sprain may mean a quick trip to your local drugstore for a bandage and pain relief cream. Try these simple home remedies to get relief fast.
How to Wrap a Sprained Thumb
Learning how to treat a sprained thumb at home begins with a good wrapping technique. To get started, all you need is hypoallergenic tape.
Learning how to tape a sprained thumb is simple. Follow these steps:
Make sure injured area is clean and free of dirt for best adherence. Next, use your tape to make a comfortable ring around your wrist. This will serve as an anchor point to support the entire wrap structure. Wrap your tape around your upper wrist a few times, creating about two inches of coverage.
Use a new piece of tape to create a ring around the base of your thumb. This new ring should start at your anchor point and travel between your thumb and forefinger, before looping back around. Create at least two loops in this way, or create more if you need a stiffer wrap.
Finally, create at least two more loops going in the opposite direction to ensure greater stability.
A sprained thumb wrap should restrict the movement of your hand giving the injury a chance to heal. A stiffer wrap is suitable for a more serious injury. If you don’t feel confident in your ability to wrap your sprained thumb yourself, consider looking at carpal tunnel braces that keep your thumb stabilized.
Sprained Thumb Exercises
For the mildest cases, regular sprained thumb exercises can be the most effective treatment. The best exercises vary based on types of injuries. Try any of the following daily exercises to speed the recovery of your thumb sprain.
For thumb strengthening, spend about five minutes picking up small objects, like coins or paper clips, using your thumb and each of your other fingers.
To improve your grip, squeeze a rubber ball for up to five seconds. Two sets of 15 reps should be perfect.
Lateral motion can be improved by slowly moving your wrist from side to side, in a handshake motion.
Therapy putty can be a useful companion to all hand exercises. Keeping the injured thumb active through repetitive gripping, squeezing, and pulling will speed recovery.
Putty isn't just for kids. Use therapy putty to improve your hand strength and mobility, while having fun! ( See Product)
Sprained Thumb Splints, Braces, & Casts
When healing from a sprained thumb, support and protection go a long way. You'll find that keeping your sprained thumb stable during your daily routine not only promotes a quicker recovery, but also provides relief from associated aches, pains, and discomfort.
Braces for Sprained Thumb
A sprained thumb brace is one common treatment option, which stimulates healing by restricting movement in the same way as a wrap. Sprained thumb braces come in a number of designs, allowing your doctor to find the ideal option for your injury. They are the easiest to move and adjust.
Sprained Thumb Casts
A sprained thumb cast can be used to restrict movement even further. Doctors use casts to treat the most severe cases because of their durability and effectiveness. However they must be kept dry at all times and cannot be adjusted during your sprained thumb recovery.
A thumb splint is crucial to protect your injured thumb and to prevent dangerous movement that can exacerbate your sprain. ( See Product)
Sprained thumb splints are fast and lightweight options that are primarily used in first aid situations. Easy to apply and easier to remove, they can be crafted quickly. Sprained thumb splints may not be best suited for long-term healing.
Sprained Thumb Recovery Time
Sprained thumb recovery can vary depending on a few factors, including your age and the severity of your injury. In most cases, a sprained thumb will heal completely four to six weeks after the initial damage.
If your sprained thumb is not healing within this timeframe, seek medical attention as soon as you can. It is possible that your sprain was initially misdiagnosed, or that the sprain led to additional complications, which need to be addressed by your doctor.
Understanding, identifying, and treating a sprained thumb ligament early on will speed your recovery and allow you get back to your active life as soon as possible.
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