Symptoms Of A Sprained Thumb: Its Causes And How To Treat It?

A sprain is an injury to the soft tissue around the joint. The muscles, ligaments and tendons which are attached to bones, has function to move them and to hold them in place. In a sprain, muscles, ligaments and tendons are stretched or torn.

Sprained thumb is a common problem faced by many people, especially those who participate in sports. In thumb sprain, it is the joint capsule, ligament or the cartilage of thumb that gets affected. Treatment of thumb sprain is conservative and may take healing time of 2 to 6 weeks.

If sprain is severe the rehabilitation time may become longer.

Causes Of Sprained Thumb

Thumb is made up of two bones, they are called phalanges. In between the two bones there is a joint called interphalangeal joints. The base of thumb is attached to first metacarpal bone (bone present in palm). The joint between the two is called metacarpophalangeal joint. Both these joints are surrounded by strong ligaments. Cartilage lies between the joints. It acts as a cushion between the bones during an impact to the thumb. An injury to the thumb may damage the cartilage or the ligament that is attached to the thumb.

The resulting condition is called sprained thumb.

Sprained thumb is common in certain sports where the thumb is exposed to direct impact of the ball with force. Few examples are basketball, netball, cricket, rugby etc. The force may bend the thumb extremely backwards or forwards or on one side. Sprained thumb may also occur in contact sports while tackling or due to forceful collision with other player.

A forceful impact to the palm and thumb when a person falls to ground may cause injury to the ligaments of thumb. Certain activities which require repetitive actions or overuse such as typing may become a cause for thumb sprain.

Sprained Thumb Symptoms

  • A person having sprained thumb experiences inability to grasp an object between the thumb and finger. Things may fall down as a result. There is a feeling of weakness in the thumb.
  • Pain in thumb while doing any activity.
  • Pain and stiffness after taking rest, especially after getting up in the morning.
  • Pain and stiffness may be on the affected joint or its side.
  • Pain may sometime radiate to hands and wrist of the affected side.
  • During the injury, there is a peculiar snap sound.
  • The affected joint becomes swollen.
  • Bruises and skin color change are apparent.
  • Symptoms are aggravated with certain activities such as typing, texting messages or doing any household chores aside from sports activities.
  • Affected joint is tender on touch.

How To Treat A Sprained Thumb?

After physical examination and clinical history, the physician confirms the diagnosis of sprained thumb. He may also suggest X-ray, ultrasound or MRI for further confirmation and to rule out fracture.

  • The primary treatment is to immobilize the affected thumb joint. Patient should avoid activities that require use of affected thumb.
  • The next step is to do hot and cold fomentation if person is unable to contact the doctor.
  • Physician usually immobilizes the thumb joint with a bandage, splint or a cast. It is kept for several weeks.
  • If thumb sprain is mild to moderate, it may take 2 to 6 weeks time to heal.
  • Once the splint or cast is removed, physical strength training exercise is recommended to the patient.
  • In some cases to relieve pain, patient is given anti inflammatory analgesics.