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Common Symptoms of a Sprained Thumb

A sprained thumb is an injury to the ligament or tissue that connects the bone at the base of the thumb. It occurs when the thumb is overextended or torn. Certain sports can cause a sprained thumb more readily such as tennis, football, and basketball. But a thumb can be sprained during everyday activities, too. More than 200,000 cases of sprained thumbs are treated in the United States each year. It can be self-treated, unless it feels serious enough to be seen by a primary care doctor. A sprained thumb doesn’t last long — healing on its own between a few days to weeks — as long as it is treated immediately.

Look for these common signs and symptoms to determine if you think you have a sprained thumb:

Pain around the thumb area and whenever you try to move it backward could indicate a sprain. If you are feeling pain even when you are not using your thumb, an over-the-counter pain reliever (taken as directed) may ease the pain while it heals. For more intense pain, a splint may be necessary to keep the thumb in place and allow it to heal in the process.

Swelling of a sprained thumb will cause you to be unable to grasp objects. A compression wrap will reduce swelling and pain. When you compress it, place a splint over it as well to help keep it in place. Make sure to not wrap the elastic bandage around too tightly, it could cause more swelling and pain. Take the bandage off at night to allow your thumb to breathe. After time and rest, the thumb should heal on its own.

Bruising on the thumb is a cause for concern, especially if it is very tender to touch. Placing ice, compression, and rest will allow the bruise to heal quicker. As the bruise heals, it will change color. Refrain from physical activity while your thumb is bruised and give it time to heal. Just because a bruise begins to fade does not mean it’s healed completely. Ease back into your everyday activities slowly to avoid re-injury.

Weakness in the thumb could mean the ligament and bone are injured. When your thumb is weak, the best thing you can do is rest it. Place a splint over the thumb to keep it from moving when doing other activities. When it’s not in a splint, ice it for 10 minutes every hour. After icing, place the splint or compression wrap back over the thumb. It will feel uncomfortable at first, but it will aid in the healing process. Eventually your thumb will regain its mobility.

A cold feeling in the thumb is a common sign of a sprain due to reduced blood circulation. Even though it may seem logical to apply heat, you should actually place ice on the thumb. While the cold compress may be painful, it will aid in healing a sprain. Once the feeling returns to your thumb, apply a splint over it to make sure it is protected while it continues to heal.

Delayed onset muscle soreness is a sign of a sprained thumb. This can happen after doing a physical activity for the first time or over a prolonged period of time and you may not feel the soreness until the next day. If the soreness is intense with difficulty in movement, you can rub cold topical analgesic cream on the sprained thumb. Place a compress on the area, but not too tightly. The muscle soreness will go away in a few days. Once it subsides, don’t try to go back to doing the activity too quickly.

Tenderness of a sprained thumb is a common sign to look out for. The best you can do is take an over-the-counter pain reliever (as directed), rest, and icing the thumb. Gently place a splint over it if you can stand the pain. If a splint is too painful, be careful about how you use your hand and give it a week or two to heal.

Joint stiffness in your thumb may be caused by an injury to the joint. If a thumb sprain isn’t allowed to heal properly, it can lead to arthritis which will limit the activities you can do. Applying ice to your stiff joint will help ease the pain and swelling. Exercising the thumb is actually not a good idea. Let the thumb rest as much as possible. Keep the thumb in one position at all times by using a splint to help the healing process.

Tingling sensations, followed by pain, is a sign of nerve damage in the thumb. The tingling sensation is typical in people with a mild sprain of the thumb. Most people find that the sensation fades after a few minutes and the thumb will regain a normal feeling. If you experience tingling of a sprained thumb, apply ice to get the swelling down. If there is no change after 45-minutes of icing, the thumb might be dislocated.

Dislocation is a severe complication of a sprained thumb. When the thumb experiences trauma through force, it results in the thumb flexing in the wrong direction. As a result of the unnatural movement, you may tear the ligaments in their thumb. A dislocation is incredibly painful and requires a doctor to pull the thumb back into the correct position. In most cases, the affected individual experiences a wave of relief after relocating the displaced thumb.

Pain in your wrist is a common sign of a sprained thumb. Some individuals that experience a sprain find they start to develop problems in their wrists. The wrist might feel tight or painful when it is flexed from side-to-side. The torn thumb ligaments may cause pain in the wrist area where they attach to the bone. Individuals experiencing wrist pain should wear an athletic support or splint to help with recovery. In most cases, it takes around 6 to 8-weeks to repair ligaments with considerable improvement in wrist mobility after the second week.

Loss of mobility may be a result of a sprained thumb. Your thumb consists of a network of ligaments that allow you to move it. When you experience a sprain, it reduces the ligament’s ability to contract and release. In severe thumb sprains, you may notice a dark purple coloration appear below the skin. The color change is a sign of internal bleeding and bruising, and will take a while for these injuries to heal properly. While you’re waiting to heal, you’ll notice that you get a little bit more of your mobility back each week during your recovery.

In most thumb sprains, you’ll make a full recovery back to normal within six to eight weeks. While we all want to recover as fast as possible, taking time with your rehabilitation ensures you don’t reinjure your thumb, delaying your healing. If your injury seems to not be healing, make an appointment at for an evaluation.


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