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How to Tell If Your Hand Is Broken — Broken Hand Symptoms and Treatment

By Dr. Conrad G. Hamilton

Sports Medicine Recovery Journal

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How to Tell If Your Hand Is Broken — Broken Hand Symptoms and Treatment

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 (including injuries to the wrists and 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 treatment strategies for broken hands effective broken hand treatments to help expedite the recovery process, prevent reinjury, and minimize the risk of developing post-traumatic arthritis due to the injury. In this post, we will explain many common symptoms and what to do for a broken hand, including nonoperative and minimally invasive surgical options. Let’s take a look...

Anatomy of the Hand: Different Types of Hand Fractures

The term “broken broken” is often used colloquially, however, it’s important to note that a “broken bone” is a fracture in a bone. With 27 bones and 28 muscles, the human hand is nimble and also highly susceptible to injury, especially acute injuries as a result of direct trauma. Along with the end of the forearm (the 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 metacarpal bones.

The “neck” of each metacarpal bone is a thin and vulnerable part just behind the knuckle, whereas the “base” of each bone is broader, situated closest to the carpals of the wrist. Beyond the metacarpals, each finger has three phalanges, while the thumb has two. One of the most common types of hand fractures is commonly known as “Boxer’s Fracture.” This is a break in the neck of the fifth metacarpal — supporting the small finger or “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. The most common carpal fracture is seen in the scaphoid -- the carpal bone situated just below the thumb. In fact, scaphoid fractures account for nearly three-quarters of carpal fractures, according to a recent study in Current Reviews in Musculoskeletal Medicine. These fractures are seen frequently in multiple sports ranging from lacrosse to football.

Broken Hand Symptoms: How Do I Know If I Have a Broken Hand?

The location, severity, and the length of time since suffering 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 achiness, 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 sunken inward due to displacement along the neck of the metacarpal. Broken finger symptoms include achiness, 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. 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. 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, finger, or wrist. 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 provider will recommend appropriate broken hand treatment options for the injury.

Hand Fracture Treatments: How to Treat a Broken Hand

Today, treatment has advanced to now include modalities such as bone stimulation and injections to help the healing process. Fortunately, many hand fractures will not require surgical intervention. Although casts, splints, braces, straps, and the classic “buddy tape” 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.

Broken Hand Treatment Options: Hand Fracture Surgery

Fractures that cannot be properly treated with the non-operative management will require surgery. During hand fracture surgery, local or general anesthesia may be used depending on the specific surgery. This is done in such a way that patients do not feel or remember the procedure. Broken hand surgery may involve the use of small pins and wires that will hold the fracture in place for several weeks. In some instances, metal plates and screws are utilized. If a bone has been shattered, it may be necessary to use a bone graft.

The Recovery Process: Broken Hand Healing Time

Most patients should expect to have a follow-up appointment with their provider 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 managed after surgery by keeping the injury elevated. Ideally, the hand should be kept higher than the heart, meaning the patient may need to prop it up while seated or lying down. In some cases, an additional procedure may be required to remove hardware used to hold the fracture in place during the healing process.

Broken hand recovery time will vary based on the injury, the patient, and his/her level of demands. There will be a gradual advancement of the fracture uniting over time. There are specific strategies to expedite bone healing and minimize the need to return to work, sport, and life with injury-free hands. One of the single most important factors for a speedy recovery is the complete absence from any form of nicotine.

Broken Hand Rehab — Broken Hand Physical Therapy Exercises

Occupational hand therapy may be recommended for most fractures to help with the recovery process. Finger and hand occupational therapy exercises are used to alleviate pain and discomfort related to stiffness and inflammation, and restore strength lost as a result of extended immobilization. The overseeing therapist will first gauge a patient’s range of motion and overall functionality before establishing a comprehensive regimen of hand physical therapy exercises tailored to the specific injury. Once the patient has demonstrated proficiency, these exercises should be performed at home 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.

At Sports Medicine Oregon, we specialize in the full spectrum of treatment options for broken hand, fingers, and wrist. While some fractures will require operative 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 and occupational therapy with specialized hand therapists. Whether your broken hand is a sports injury or the result of aging and arthritis, 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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