Home > Blog > Hand Therapy > Sprained Thumb

book your physio appointment or enquire now

Email questions and your preferred physiotherapy timings to nigel@phoenixrehabgroup.com or

WhatsApp / SMS your name, preferred date, time and enquiries to +6588001830

Clinic Locations: See how to get to us here

Sprained Thumb
Hand Physiotherapy



A sprained thumb occurs when the ligaments that support the thumb stretch beyond their limits or tear. This usually happens when a strong force bends the thumb backwards, away from the palm of the hand. The most common way for this to occur is by falling onto an outstretched hand.

Most thumb sprains involve the ulnar collateral ligament, which is located on the inside of the knuckle joint. A tear to this ligament can be painful and may make your thumb feel unstable. It may also weaken your ability to grasp objects between your thumb and index finger.

Treatment for a sprained thumb usually involves wearing a splint or cast to keep the thumb from moving while the ligament heals. For more severe sprains, surgery may be needed to restore stability to the joint.

Description

Ligaments are strong, fibrous tissues that connect bones to other bones. The ligaments in the thumb help keep the bones in proper position and stabilize the joint.

Sprains can range from a stretch or tiny tear in the fibers that make up the ligament to a complete tear through the ligament or through its attachment to the bone.

Grades of Thumb Sprains

Sprains are graded, depending on the degree of injury to the ligaments

  • Grade 1 sprain (mild). The ligaments are stretched, but not torn.
  • Grade 2 sprain (moderate). The ligaments are partially torn. This type of injury may involve some loss of function.
  • Grade 3 sprain (severe). The ligament is completely torn or is pulled off its attachment to the bone. These are significant injuries that require medical or surgical care. If the ligament tears away from the bone, it may take a small chip of the bone with it. This is called an avulsion fracture.
Injury to the Ulnar Collateral Ligament of the Thumb

The most common ligament to be injured in the thumb is the ulnar collateral ligament. This strong band of tissue, which is attached to the middle joint of the thumb (the metacarpophalangeal or MCP joint), keeps your thumb stable so that you can pinch and grasp things.

A sprained thumb is often called a “skier’s thumb” because falling on the ski slopes with your hand strapped to a ski pole is a common cause of injury to the ulnar collateral ligament.

The ligament can also be injured more gradually, over time, from repetitive grasping or twisting activities. This type of chronic injury is known as a “gamekeeper’s thumb.”

The ulnar collateral ligament can tear in different ways. For example, it may be pulled off its attachment at the base of the first bone (the proximal phalanx) in the thumb or from its origin on the metacarpal bone. It can also be torn through its middle, although this is less common.

Cause

Any strong force that bends the thumb backwards, away from the palm of the hand, can stretch or tear the ulnar collateral ligament. This most often occurs by falling onto an outstretched hand.

Sprained thumbs are also common in skiers and in athletes who participate in sports that involve catching and throwing a ball, like football, baseball, and basketball.

Symptoms

Depending on the severity of the sprain, pain may or may not occur at the time of the injury. You may have bruising, tenderness, and swelling around the base of your thumb, near the palm.

If the ulnar collateral ligament is completely torn, the end of the ruptured ligament may cause a lump or swelling on the inside of the thumb. Your thumb joint may also feel loose or unstable. You may have difficulty grasping items between your thumb and index finger.

Doctor Examination

Physical Examination

Your doctor will want to know how and when your injury occurred and will ask you to describe your symptoms. He or she will then carefully exam your thumb and hand.

To help determine if the ulnar collateral ligament is partially or completely torn, your doctor will move your thumb in different positions to test the stability of the MCP joint. If the joint is loose and unstable, it is an indication that the ligament may be completely torn.

Imaging Studies

X-rays. X-rays provide images of dense structures, such as bone. Your doctor may order x-rays of your thumb and hand to ensure that you do not have an avulsion fracture or any broken bones. He or she may also take an x-ray of your uninjured thumb to compare it to the injured thumb.

A special type of x-ray, called a stress x-ray, may also be ordered. During this test, your doctor will apply tension to your thumb while it is being x-rayed to learn more about the stability of the MCP joint. If the test causes pain, you may be given an injection of a local anesthetic.

Other imaging studies. If more information is needed, a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan or an ultrasound may be ordered. These tests can help your doctor learn more about the severity of your injury and make decisions regarding your treatment and return to activity.

sprained thumb Treatment

Treatment for a sprained thumb depends on the severity of the injury.

Home Care

Mild thumb sprains will usually improve with home treatment that includes the RICE protocol:

  • Rest. Try not use your hand for at least 48 hours.
  • Ice.  Apply ice immediately after the injury to keep the swelling down. Use cold packs for 20 minutes at a time, several times a day. Do not apply ice directly on the skin.
  • Compression. Wear an elastic compression bandage to reduce swelling.
  • Elevation. As often as possible, rest with your hand raised up higher than your heart.

Related article: RICER Approach For Injuries

Additionally, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as aspirin or ibuprofen, can help reduce pain and swelling. If pain and swelling persist for more than 48 hours, however, see a doctor.

Nonsurgical Treatment

For a moderate sprain, your doctor will probably immobilize your thumb joint with a bandage, thumb spica cast, or splint until it heals.

To ease pain and swelling, you can apply a cold pack to your thumb twice a day for 2 to 3 days after the injury. Do not apply ice directly on your skin, instead, wrap ice packs in at least 2 layers of towels before applying.

Depending on the severity of the injury, you may be instructed to wear the splint or cast at all times.

It is important that you avoid applying any pressure or resistance to your thumb until you are permitted by your doctor. Because immobilization may cause some stiffness in your thumb joint, your doctor may recommend hand therapy with us to help you regain full range of motion.

Surgical Treatment

For a severe sprain, surgery may be needed to restore the stability of your thumb joint and help you regain function. Surgery involves reconnecting the ligament to the bone and/or repairing the avulsion fracture using a pin, screw, or special bone anchor. After surgery, you may have to wear a short arm cast or a customized splint for 6 to 12 weeks to protect the thumb ligament while it heals.

Outcomes

When diagnosed and treated properly with early hand therapy intervention, most thumb sprains will heal well with no residual complications.

That being said, patients who ignore and don't get their sprained thumbs treated hoping that it will heal on its own may lead to long-term problems, including

  • chronic thumb instability
  • chronic thumb weakness
  • thumb joint arthritis

If these late complications develop, corrective surgery may be needed to rebuild the ligament using tissue from your upper arm. If there is significant arthritis, you may also require to undergo a joint fusion procedure may be needed to address both the arthritis and the instability of the thumb metacarpophalangeal (knuckle) joint.



Back to Top

book your physio appointment or enquire now

Email questions and your preferred physiotherapy timings to nigel@phoenixrehabgroup.com or

WhatsApp / SMS your name, preferred date, time and enquiries to +6588001830

Clinic Locations: See how to get to us here

Phoenix Rehab physio Services

Phoenix Rehab Group works with specialist physiotherapists and rehab therapists who are highly trained, qualified, experienced and passionate to provide high level of expert care to our patients.



HAND THERAPY &  SPLINTING

Patients who sustained injuries to their elbows, forearms, hands, wrists (sprains and fractures) and fingers, and requires Hand Therapy to increase the function of their hand following injuries or post-operations as well as custom made hand splints.

Commonly treated hand pain injuries includes



CLINICAL PILATES & WELLNESS PILATES

Clinical Pilates is a form of physical exercise that focuses on

  • posture
  •  core stability
  • balance
  • control
  • strength
  • flexibility and
  • breathing

It is a system of safe and effective exercises, which meet specific individual needs, to treat a wide range of injuries and conditions.

You may do Pilates as matwork or with the reformer or both, and every session will be customized 100% to your fitness, injury and tolerance.



TRADITIONAL CHINESE MEDICINE (TCM)



DEEP TISSUE RELEASE & SPORTS MASSAGE THERAPY

Sports and deep tissue release massage helps to increase nutrient-rich blood flow to tired, tight and tense muscles to

  • accelerate recovery and
  • shorten downtime / recovery period required

It also prevents muscles from scar tissue micro-tears (and potential ruptures), and increases muscle performance.

Done regularly, it will keeps your muscles healthy and fit with body/movement-confidence. Read the benefits of regular deep tissue release therapy here.



ALTERNATIVE THERAPIES

All our allied health therapists and TCM physicians are fully insured and registered with Allied Health Professions Council (AHPC) and Traditional Chinese Medicine Board (TCMB).

See our entire team here with introductions and their specializations.

At the first session, our specialist physiotherapists will carry out a thorough assessment, helping them to select the most appropriate treatment to help you recover as well as provide treatment in the same session.

Follow up sessions are inline to provide expert treatment for your pain as well as prescribing specific exercises to reduce your risk of re-injury and giving you a long term solution.

do Tell Your Family, Friends And Colleagues About Us =)

We appreciate you as our valued clients and want you to know that the #1 way we grow as a clinic/brand is through word of mouth referrals from valued patients like yourself.

We do not rely on advertising - instead, we prefer and appreciate the goodwill and positive reinforcement from patients. When you have the chance, please tell your family, friends and physicians about the positive results and experience you have had in our physio clinics.

book your physio appointment or enquire now

Email questions and your preferred physiotherapy timings to nigel@phoenixrehabgroup.com or

WhatsApp / SMS your name, preferred date, time and enquiries to +6588001830

Clinic Locations: See how to get to us here