The thumb is one of those areas of the body that is used continuously in everyday life. The thumb is used for gripping, grasping, picking things up and holding items. When the thumb is injured, your ability to perform any task with your hand is virtually impossible.
When a strain occurs in the thumb, a ligament is typically torn. This means that when the thumb is strained it is the ulnar collateral ligament that is strained, which causes a significant weakness in one’s ability to pinch or grasp.
Causes and Symptoms of a Sprained Thumb
The most common causes of a sprained thumb are due to falling injuries. A person may fall while their arm and hand are extended in order to reduce the impact of the fall, but in the attempt to absorb impact, actually do more damage.
Another common thumb injury occurs while skiing and is known as ‘skier’s thumb.’ This occurs when a fall takes place while the ski pole is embedded inside the hand, near the base and alongside the thumb region. This type of injury typically results in a torn ligament in the thumb.
Symptoms vary depending on the nature and severity of the sprain, although general weakness in the ability to grasp and hold items between the thumb and index finger.
There may also be pain and swelling around the base of the thumb when it is sprained. Bruising and tenderness to touch are also common.
Non-Surgical Treatment of a Sprained Thumb
When the ligament in the thumb is only partially torn, non-surgical treatment is possible to repair the injury. The doctor may immobilize the thumb to keep it stable and prevent the ligament from moving. This may be done using a cast, split or thick bandage that supports the thumb. To relieve pain and swelling, anti-inflammatory medication may be prescribed, along with daily cycles of ice application.
Surgical Treatment of a Sprained Thumb
When the ligament is completely torn, surgery is the only option to repair the tear and provide the ability to move the thumb again. Surgery involves the reconnection of the ligament to the bone so that normal movement can be regained once the area is healed. Following surgery a cast or splint may be put on, along with short arm cast for six to eight weeks to prevent the thumb from moving. Immobility is critical for the healing process.
While many people ignore a sprained thumb and believe it will heal on its own, in some cases if left alone the thumb can become deformed and the individual may never regain proper function and mobility.