According to recent estimates published in the Journal of Orthopaedic Surgery and Research, approximately one-quarter of all sports injuries involve the hands or wrists. Hand fractures and broken fingers are currently on the rise due to increased athletic competition around the country, but these kinds of injuries are also common off the playing field, especially for older adults. As part of the natural aging process, our bones weaken over time, leaving us more vulnerable to fractures and other injuries. Regardless of the cause, there are many effective broken hand treatments and strategies to help expedite the recovery process and prevent reinjury. In this post, we will explain many common broken hand symptoms and what to do for a broken hand, including physical therapy and surgical options. Let’s take a look...
With 27 bones and 28 muscles, the human hand is certainly nimble, but it is also highly susceptible to injury, especially acute injuries as a result of direct trauma. Along with the ends of the forearm’s radius and ulna, the skeletal structure of the wrist is composed of eight small carpal bones. Beyond these, the palm of the hand is made up of five total metacarpal bones. Each of these is labeled numerically, one through five, with the first metacarpal controlling the thumb. The “neck” of each metacarpal bone is the thinnest part just behind the knuckle, whereas the “base” of each bone is the end situated closest to the wrist. Beyond the metacarpals, each finger has three phalanges, while the thumb has two. One of the most common types of hand fractures, commonly known as Boxer’s Fracture, is a break in the neck of the fifth metacarpal — the one controlling the pinky. As the name suggests, a Boxer’s fracture is often the result of a closed fist striking a hard object, or otherwise sustaining direct trauma during a collision. Fractures to the scaphoid bone (the carpal bone situated just below the thumb) are also common, especially during college football and other athletics.
Approximately 6 million people suffer a broken bone every year in the United States, and broken fingers are very common. The location and severity of the hand fracture will determine the symptoms the patient experiences and the available treatment options. So what does a broken hand feel like? Let’s take a look at a few of the most common broken hand symptoms.
Fractured hand symptoms involving the metacarpals include pain, swelling, general tenderness along the site of the injury, and bruising. These metacarpal fractures symptoms may be more pronounced as the patient makes a fist or even loosely grips items. Metacarpal fractures may also give the involved fingers a shortened appearance. For example, Boxer’s fracture symptoms may include the knuckle appearing indented or crushed inward due to displacement along the neck of the metacarpal. Broken finger symptoms include pain, decreased range of motion, swelling, and sensitivity to even the lightest touch. Fractured finger symptoms may also include bruising, and it’s possible for the finger to appear deformed or misaligned. Broken thumb symptoms include swelling, bruising, sensitivity to the touch, and decreased range of motion. Some patients also report numbness or feelings of cold around the injury. In some cases, the hand or fingers may change colors, becoming pale or even blue, after a fracture of the hand. Patients may also notice other tactile sensations, such as tingling.
Scaphoid fractures are the most common injuries involving the eight small carpal bones along the base of the wrist. Scaphoid fracture symptoms include pain, swelling, and sensitivity to touch. Pain symptoms may increase as the individual makes a fist or closes the hand. However, just because a person is still capable of making a fist or using the digits with minimal discomfort does not mean he or she has not suffered a broken hand or finger. It’s important to remember that many broken hand symptoms are similar to those of other potential injuries, and diagnosis by a medical professional is key. Prompt medical attention is necessary to prevent further injury and help expedite the recovery process. Accurate diagnosis of the extent of the damage will require a physical examination and potentially the use of diagnostic imaging tests. After these tests, your doctor will recommend appropriate broken hand treatment options.
There are many broken hand treatment options to address broken fingers, broken metacarpals, and other hand injuries. Fortunately, many hand fractures will not require surgical intervention, although splints, braces, straps, and the classic “buddy system” may be used to immobilize the affected bones. In some instances, patients may need to wear larger casts to immobilize the entire hand or wrist. These splints and casts hold the bones in place, allowing the area to heal, while also minimizing the risk of reinjury during the recovery process. In the event of misalignment, the overseeing medical professional may need to manually reposition the finger before utilizing a splint or cast. These noninvasive treatments are viable for most situations, but in the case of more severe injuries, your doctor may recommend surgical intervention for optimal results and recovery.
Fractures that cannot be properly corrected with the aforementioned treatment strategies will require broken hand surgery. During hand fracture surgery, local or general anesthesia may be used depending on the specific surgery. Broken hand surgery may involve the use of small pins and wires that will hold the fractured bones in place for several weeks. In some instances, metal plates and screws may be utilized to ensure the bones of the hand are properly aligned. If a bone has been shattered, it may be necessary to use a bone graft transplanted from another part of the patient’s body. A bone graft may also be used to treat a bone that has not healed properly after a previous injury.
Most patients should expect to have a follow-up appointment with their doctor within a week or two of the procedure. During the recovery process, the overseeing medical professional may use intermittent imaging tests to make sure the bones are healing properly. Pain and swelling are to be expected after surgery, and your doctor may prescribe medication to help. Over-the-counter pain medications can also be used to treat pain, discomfort, and swelling. To further minimize swelling, it’s important to keep the injury elevated following surgery. Ideally, the hand should be kept higher than the heart, meaning the patient may need to prop it up while seated or lying down. Ice packs may also be used to help with pain and swelling. When using this method, a towel should be kept between the ice packs and the skin, to prevent direct contact and reduce the risk of frostbite. Additional procedures may be required to remove hardware used to hold the bones in place during the healing process.
Broken hand recovery time will be different for every injury and every patient. With proper treatment, broken fingers will typically heal within a few weeks and broken hands within one to two months, although it may take several months to make a complete recovery from a severely broken hand.
Physical therapy may be recommended for some hand injuries to help with the recovery process. Finger and hand physical therapy exercises are used to alleviate pain and discomfort related to stiffness and inflammation, and they can also help patients restore strength lost as a result of extended immobilization. The overseeing physical therapist will first gauge a patient’s range of motion and overall functionality before establishing a comprehensive regimen of hand physical therapy exercises. Once the patient has demonstrated proficiency, these broken hand physical therapy exercises should be performed at home daily for optimal results. Hand therapy putty and common everyday household items such as towels and cups may be used to help with strength training exercises. Stretching exercises will also be incorporated to increase the range of motion.
Many hand and finger injuries in the workplace and on the playing field are preventable, and hand and finger injury prevention should be practiced as part of daily operations. Preventing hand injuries in the workplace and on the playing field is often as easy as wearing appropriate gear for the job or sport at hand. For athletes, this means ensuring protective gloves and wrist guards are in good condition and fit appropriately. On the job site, it’s imperative to incorporate the best ergonomic practices and also wear appropriate safety gear, such as approved hand and wrist protection. Stretching before and after activity may also keep muscles, tendons, and ligaments primed for use and minimize other hand and wrist injuries.
At Sports Medicine Oregon, we specialize in the full spectrum of broken hand and broken finger treatment options. While some hand fractures and broken fingers will require surgical intervention, many other hand injuries can be adequately treated using the latest noninvasive therapies. Additionally, individuals who need physical therapy after a broken hand can greatly benefit from comprehensive care at our state-of-the-art physical therapy facility. Whether your broken hand is a sports injury or the result of an accident around the house, our team is dedicated to getting you back to your active lifestyle with a personalized approach to broken hand treatment, rehabilitation, and injury prevention.
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