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Simple Exercises & Stretches for a Sprained Thumb

by Jaydee Vykoukal, PT, DPT July 25, 2020 0 Comments

Ring grip strengthener

Sprained thumb exercises can help you feel in control during the recovery process, whether your sprain is the result of a sports injury like skier's thumb or gamekeeper’s thumb. If your goal is getting back to your normal routine, be sure to choose only the safest and most effective stretches and exercises. In our list below, we have handpicked a few to get you started.

Strengthening After Thumb Sprain

Thumb strengthening exercises are an important phase for regaining thumb function after an injury. Try these simple exercises to maximize healing and thumb balance.

Finger Pinch

Roll out a column of therapy putty, that you can pinch between your pointer, middle finger, and thumb. Simply pinch the tips of the fingers and the thumb together as you press into the putty. Decide how hard you can push based on your symptoms. This will help to regain strength when picking up small objects.

Repeat 15-20 times for up to 2 sets.

Power Squeeze

This can be done with therapy putty or a hand strengthening rubber ball. Simply place the tool in the palm of your hand. Wrap your fingers and thumb around it as you squeeze the hand into a fist. Squeeze as hard as is comfortable for up to 5 seconds.

Repeat 10-20 times for up to 2 sets each day.  

Full Finger Spread

Use a rubber band, circular band of putty, or a hand extension exerciser to strengthen the extensors in the hand. For the starting position, bring the tips of your fingers and thumb together before placing the band around your fingers. Then, spread the fingers apart as far as possible and hold for 2-3 seconds. Keep the return motion slow and controlled.

Repeat 10-15 times for 2 sets a day. 

Range of Motion Exercise for Thumb

Maintaining and restoring flexibility is important for normal hand function and recovering from your thumb injury. Stretching should only be started when pain and swelling are under control and these moves can be done without a significant increase in pain.

Thumb Flexion

For this stretch, you will simply be opening and closing the hand with controlled motion. First, bend the thumb across your palm, then close your hand by bringing your fingers to your palm. Your fingers will wrap around your thumb as you close them. Hold for 2-3 seconds before opening the palm back up as far as possible and starting over again.

Repeat 10-15 times for up to 2 sets throughout the day. You can modify the stretch to focus on whichever thumb joint is most affected. To progress, work on bringing the thumb across the palm to the base of the index finger and/or pinkie finger as you close the hand.

Thumb Extension

Start with your palm open and all the fingers straight and touching each other, side by side.  With the palm facing sideways and the thumb facing up toward the ceiling, simply lift the thumb away from the fingers as you move it closer to the ceiling as far as you can go. Keep the range relatively pain free and in control.

Repeat 10-15 times for up to 2 sets per day.

Thumb Abduction

Turn your palm up toward the ceiling while keeping the fingers straight and touching. This time, lift the thumb up toward the ceiling so that the pointer finger and thumb create a backward L-shape. Move for a count of 2-3 in each direction.

Repeat 10-15 times for up to 2 sets each day.

Range of Motion Exercises for Wrist

Keeping the wrist limber and moving regularly can promote good circulation in the hand, especially in the early stages of healing when motion is not well tolerated. Start without weight to focus on flexibility. Then, add weight to promote strength and flexibility as you are able. 

Wrist Flexion and Extension

You can choose if you want your wrist supported or not with this movement. The move is simple. You will bend the wrist as far as is comfortable before reversing directions to extend the wrist as far as you can. Alternate slowly between these two moves.

Repeat 10-15 times for 2-3 sets.

Wrist Pronation and Supination

Support your arm on a table or your knee while sitting. Then, while keeping the upper arm and elbow still, rotate the wrist so that the palm is facing the ceiling. Hold for 1-2 seconds before reversing directions and bringing the palm down toward the floor. To make the stretch stronger, you can use a hammer or small weight for overpressure.

Repeat 10-15 times for up to 3 sets. 

Wrist Radial Deviation and Supination  

Support your arm again with the wrist free for movement. Keep your fingers relaxed as you turn your wrist so that the thumb is pointing up toward the ceiling. This sideways movement of the wrist is small and subtle so don’t try to force it. Bring the thumb and hand up toward the ceiling, before letting it then fall down toward the floor. This movement occurs at the base of your thumb and wrist, so proceed gently to avoid irritation.

Repeat 10-15 times for 2-3 sets per day.

Benefits of Stretches and Exercises

Here is a quick review of a few of the many benefits that come with a regular exercise program:

  • Decreased pain with daily activities
  • Improved circulation for healing (decreased bruising) and swelling management
  • Quicker recovery
  • Less risk of unnecessary thumb stiffness
  • Improved thumb stability and coordination
  • A great adjunct to other home remedies and treatments for a sprained thumb
  • Better overall hand function and quality of life

When and How Often to Exercise

When you can start thumb exercises is dependent on the severity of your ligament injury. Regardless, exercise is important for addressing potential stiffness and loss of function due to thumb taping or splinting. Here are some general guidelines for each grade of injury:

  • Grade 1

    When the injury and symptoms are mild, you might need to rest the thumb for a few days to up to 2 weeks before initiation of an exercise program.

  • Grade 2

    With more moderate symptoms and possible instability due to a partial tear of the thumb ligaments, more time will be spent resting the thumb to promote healing. When symptoms start improving and pain allows, you will start with gentle stretches and build from there, typically around the 2-4 weeks. By 4-6 weeks, you should be ready for more formal strengthening.

  • Grade 3

    A severe injury will most likely require surgery. Initially, a splint (typically a thumb spica) will be utilized for up to 6 weeks. From there, the recovery process will need to be slow and gradual as thumb flexibility and strength are returned. Full recovery will typically take 12 or more weeks.

Taking the Right Precautions

If at any time you experience an increase or change in your symptoms, seek medical advice from a healthcare professional. They may need to do an x-ray to rule out other complications like broken bones. Additionally, if you are ever unsure of where to start a round of physical therapy can help you stay on track. With an understanding of when and how to start a thumb exercise program, you can feel confident that you will be feeling better as soon as possible.

Sources:

https://www.healthline.com/health/sprained-thumb

https://orthoinfo.aaos.org/en/diseases--conditions/sprained-thumb

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Jaydee Vykoukal, PT, DPT
Jaydee Vykoukal, PT, DPT

JayDee Vykoukal is a Doctor of Physical Therapy, owner of the healthy habit platform Health Means Wealth, and freelance medical writer. She loves traveling and spending time with her family in nature. Her passion is helping others continue to participate in the activities they love through education and proper exercise.



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