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How to Recover from a Sprained Thumb

by Tina Irizarry » on Aug 28, 2023 0

Having to recover from a sprained thumb is not ideal and is right up there as one of the most annoying types of sprains. You use your thumbs for everything, to button your pants, wash your hair, cook dinner, hold a pencil, etc. In this article we’ll discuss sprained thumb injuries and the best way to recover from a sprained thumb.

Keep on reading to learn more about thumb sprains, how to identify one, and how to quickly recover.

What is a thumb sprain?

A sprain of any sort happens when the ligaments stretch beyond their limits or tear. So a sprained thumb occurs when the ligaments that support your thumb are stretched or torn. According to The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, a thumb sprain usually happens when a strong force bends the thumb backwards, away from the palm of the hand. The most common way for this to happen is falling onto an outstretched hand.

How to Recover from a Sprained Thumb

A thumb sprain

The most common ligament to be injured in a sprained thumb is the ulnar collateral ligament. This ligament, which is on the inside of the knuckle joint connects the thumb to the index finger and it allows the thumb to act like a post. A tear to the ulnar collateral ligament can be painful and cause your thumb to feel weak or unstable.

Signs and symptoms of a sprained thumb

While a thumb sprain is less serious and painful than a broken thumb, it still comes with some discomfort. When you sprain your thumb, you will typically feel pain and stiffness at the base of your thumb, near your palm. You will have trouble freely moving your thumb and grasping or gripping items. 

With a sprained thumb, in addition to the pain you may see some swelling or bruising around your thumb. Typically, the swelling or bruising will occur around the base of your thumb.

Do I need to go to a doctor if I think I sprained my thumb?

If you are having pain and swelling in your thumb, it is always best to consult a doctor to make sure you aren’t experiencing anything more severe than a sprain. 

To diagnose a sprained thumb, your doctor will move your thumb in various directions to see how or if it’s been affected by a damaged ligament. Your doctor may take some X-rays of your thumb and hand to make sure you have not broken any bones. There are many ways a doctor can determine whether you have a sprained thumb, so make sure to see your doctor if you suspect you may have a sprain.

How does a doctor determine the severity of a thumb sprain?

Doctors use a grading system to judge the severity of a sprain of any sort.

  • Grade 1 thumb sprain: Occurs when a ligament is stretched or receives a tiny tear. There may be swelling and mild pain.
  • Grade 2 thumb sprain: Involves a partial tear of a ligament. The area may be tender and painful to move, or it may feel unusually loose.
  • Grade 3 thumb sprain: Entails a complete tear of a ligament. The sprain may be very painful, and it may be difficult to move.

How can I treat my sprained thumb?

Most thumb sprains will not require intense treatment, but some doctors may recommend you use a splint to make sure your thumb is not overused during recovery. It is important to remember there is no medical way to repair a sprain, so the best thing for you to do is RICE and take an anti inflammatory medication like ibuprofen.

  • Rest: Try to limit your use of your hand and your thumb. The more rest you give your thumb, the quicker it will recover. 
  • Ice: Apply ice to the area in 20 minute increments and repeat about 8 times a day.
  • Compression: Wear an elastic compression bandage to reduce swelling.
  • Elevate: This may be difficult for a hand, but try to keep your thumb elevated for the first few days after the injury.

If you have sprained your thumb your doctor may advise you to do thumb strengthening exercises, but the exercises will depend on the ligament injured, so make sure to consult your doctor on what to do and how frequently.

How long will my sprained thumb take to heal? 

Your recovery time for a thumb sprain will all depend on the grade of your sprain. Minor sprains can heal in a few weeks and more severe sprains can take up to 12 weeks or longer. To speed up your recovery and remain as comfortable as possible during, make sure not to do too much too soon and if you feel like your sprain is getting worse or not getting better, consult your doctor.

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