How to Tell if My Hand is Broken
According to recent estimates, approximately one-quarter of all sports injuries involve the hands or wrists. 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.
Anatomy of the Hand 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. 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.
Broken Hand Symptoms 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?
A fractured hand 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.
Broken finger or thumb symptoms include pain, decreased range of motion, swelling, bruising, and sensitivity to even the lightest touch. It’s possible for the finger to appear deformed or misaligned. Some patients also report numbness or feelings of cold around the injury. 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.
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 diagnostic imaging tests such as an x-ray. After these tests, a doctor will recommend appropriate broken hand treatment options.
Hand Fracture Treatments Fortunately, many hand fractures will not require surgical intervention. 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.
Hand Fracture Surgery 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.
The Recovery Process Expect to have a follow-up appointment with the doctor within a week or two of a procedure. Pain and swelling are to be expected after surgery, and you may be prescribed 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. 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.
Hand Physical Therapy Exercises 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. These broken hand physical therapy exercises should be performed at home daily for optimal results. 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. Preventing hand injuries 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.
If you feel that you suffered a fractured or broken hand, finger, wrist or thumb, do not delay seeking treatment.