Broken Thumb Repair
Repairing a broken (fractured) thumb can be done nonsurgically or surgically. Which method is chosen depends on a number of factors, including the location of the break and how much displacement (movement) of bone has occurred. The thumb comprises two bones: the distal phalange and the proximal phalange. The distal phalange runs from the tip of the thumb to the knuckle; the proximal phalange runs from the knuckle to the base of the thumb. Typical causes of a broken thumb include falling on an outstretched hand, and playing sports that involve either twisting or contracting the muscles of the thumb.
Signs of a Broken Thumb
Signs that a thumb may be broken include the following:
- Severe pain at the site of the break
- Swelling at/around the site of the break
- Extreme tenderness at the site of the break
- Inability, or limited ability, to move the thumb
- Thumb looks deformed or misshapen
- Thumb feels numb and/or cold
People who are calcium-deficient or have bone disease are more prone to thumb fractures.
Treatment of a Broken Thumb
A broken thumb can be repaired nonsurgically or surgically.
Nonsurgical Repair of a Broken Thumb
It is possible that a spica cast, which immobilizes the wrist, palm and thumb, can be used to treat a thumb fracture. A cast is appropriate if the pieces of fractured bone have not moved significantly or can be manipulated back into place, or if the break is in the shaft (middle) of the bone. Typically, the cast remains in place for 4 to 6 weeks, during which time X-rays are taken on a regular basis to make sure that the bone has not slipped out of place.
Surgical Repair of a Broken Thumb
If there is a lot of movement between the broken fragments of bone in the thumb, surgery may be necessary to realign the fragments, which then have to be held in place as the fracture heals. Surgical techniques involve the placement, either internally or externally, of hardware or devices to hold the fragmented pieces of bone together.
Internal fixation uses wire, pins, plates and screws to align the bones properly and hold them together. External fixation uses a device that attaches to the outside of the thumb area. Pins are attached to the fragments from outside of the body, and held in place by the device. A cast or splint is usually work for 2 to 6 weeks post-surgery. When it is removed, physical therapy may be needed to restore the full range of movement to the thumb.
Even after surgery, it is possible that the fragmented bones in the thumb have not healed, or have healed but are misaligned, resulting in pain, and loss of strength and function. If so, a second operation may be needed.