The human thumb, also known as the opposable thumb, allows us to grasp objects. This is made possible by the thumb’s ability to touch the tips of the other four fingers, which helps us manipulate objects we come in contact with.
But, take a moment to imagine a day without your thumbs. You’ll quickly realize that it would be difficult grabbing onto things.
While that may sound extreme to you, spraining your thumb can have similar effects to not having one – you lose the ability to do important tasks.
In this article, we’ll talk about the different treatment options for thumb sprains. Most of the treatments listed here can be done in the comfort of your own home, so you won’t need to step out your door.
But before we talk about how to treat a thumb sprain, we first have to know what a thumb sprain is.
Your thumb is composed of different tissues and structures that help it function. One of the structures here are ligaments, which are responsible for joining together the bones in your thumb. A sprained thumb happens when the ligaments are stretched far beyond their normal capacity.
A thumb sprain, or any sprain for that matter, can be from a severe stretch, a partial tear, or a complete tear. While a stretched or partially torn ligament can heal by itself, a complete tear of the ligament will require surgical repair.
As we mentioned above, a thumb sprain is when the ligaments are torn or stretched beyond their capacity. This happens when the thumb is pulled too far back, away from the palms. Some sprains are so severe that the ligament detaches from the bone they attach to.
The most common ligament to get injured is the ulnar collateral injury, or the UCL for short. The UCL is located at the inside of the thumb close to the joint, right at the web space of the hand near the palm.
People of any age can sprain their thumbs, and the condition is common among skiers and people who play sports that involve throwing or catching a ball. That’s why sprained thumbs are also known as Skier’s thumbs or Gamekeeper’s thumbs.
Another way of injuring it is by falling with your hands stretched out and landing on the thumb, which stretches and sprains the ligament.
To differentiate the kinds of sprains, they’re graded into different categories:
Grade 1: This is a mild sprain where the ligaments are severely stretched.
Grade 2: This is a moderate sprain where the ligaments are partially torn. A moderate sprain often comes with some loss of function.
Grade 3: A severe sprain is when the ligament is completely torn or pulled off from the bone that it was attached to. A grade 3 sprain often requires surgery.
To get a more detailed overview of what sprains are, go ahead and watch this video:
So, what should you do when you’ve sprained your thumb?
Read on below to learn about some treatments you can do for your injury. As always, it’s a good idea to consult with your physician or healthcare provider if you have any questions or doubts!
Thumb sprains can last for a few weeks to a couple of months, and how you approach treating your injury will depend on the severity of the sprain.
Mild cases of thumb sprains can be treated by applying ice and getting the proper rest. You can also take one of the many over-the-counter medications available if the pain bothers you. If you decide to add extra protection to your thumb, braces and casts are also available for you to wear.
With that said, let’s take a deeper look into the treatments for sprained thumbs.
Protect: As much as possible, you want to avoid the activity that caused your injury. While injured, you should minimize moving your thumb. Wearing extra protection, such as padding or a brace, can help protect your injury from being hit inadvertently. This also gives your thumb more stability and prevents it from moving too much.
An effective method of protecting your thumb is by taping your injury. If you want to learn how to self-tape your injured thumb, go ahead and watch this video.
I guess taping does help fix everything.
Let’s move on to the rest of the list.
Rest: Mild Sprains will heal on their own with proper rest. You should avoid engaging in activities that require the use of your injured thumbs. Take 5-10 minute breaks in between work sessions whenever possible to avoid overworking your hands. Always remember that It’s important to rest once you feel your thumbs getting fatigued because this can increase your chances of re-injuring them.
Another way to avoid overworking your injured thumb is to use your opposite hand to do tasks. You can also choose to use adaptive equipment to help you perform activities, as this helps lessen the load on your thumb, helping it heal.
Ice: Applying an ice pack to your sprained thumb will reduce the pain and swelling. Cold therapy is best applied during the first 48-72 hours after the injury has occurred. Leave the ice pack on for 15-20 minutes and do this twice a day to get the best results. The best part is you can ice your injury while lounging on your sofa watching Netflix.
At IceWraps.com, we recommend the 3x5 reusable multipurpose hot/cold gel for your thumb sprain. These ice packs are sure to fit comfortably on your thumb and help relieve your thumb pain.
You can also check out our Amazon store below to purchase our 3x5 gel packs.
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Compression: Wrapping your thumb with compression bandages will help reduce the swelling in the area. It’s important to wear the compression sleeve or bandage for long periods to make it effective. You can wear the compression sleeve the whole day while working or while sleeping.
Wearing compression garments reduces swelling because it creates pressure that pushes any excess fluid back into the body’s circulation. This results in reducing the amount of swelling and inflammation in your thumb.
Elevation: Elevating your injured hand can also help return fluids back to the circulation of the body and reduce swelling. You can do this several times a day while resting in bed or while sitting on your front porch.
We just talked about the PRICE method which stands for: protect, rest, ice, compress, and elevate. Watch this video if you want to learn more about the PRICE method and how you can apply it. If you’ve read our older articles, you’ll know that this method is very handy!
If you want to learn about treatments aside from the PRICE method, go ahead and continue reading below.
Pain Medications: Medications are effective at relieving pain and are available over-the-counter. Some medications also have anti-inflammatory properties which help bring down swelling and inflammation.
Wearing Braces or Splints: Your physician can recommend you to wear splints, braces, or bandages to minimize thumb movement. Depending on your injury, you might need to wear the splint, or brace, at all times, or during certain parts of the day. This is the perfect time for you to ice your thumb, too.
Stretching and Strengthening Exercises: When your injury starts to heal, you’ll be able to do stretching and strengthening exercises. Immobilizing your thumb for a long time can lead to stiff muscles and joints, which can be painful. This can also cause your muscles to shrink, too – a phenomenon called muscle atrophy.
Stretching will break adhesions and elongate the muscles in your thumb. This increases the range of motion of the thumb, allowing you to move better. Remember to be cautious and stretch your muscles gently.
Weak muscles will be a problem in the long run so it’s important for you to strengthen them to regain function. Your physician may refer you for physical therapy to work on stretching and strengthening your muscles.
If you’re looking for exercises to do at home, you can check out this video. Remember not to stretch your thumb if there’s still swelling and intense pain in the area!
If done correctly, you should be feeling better by now. These exercises are great for preventing injuries in the future, too!
As always, make sure to check with your physician or physical therapist before engaging in strengthening exercises. You don’t wanna hurt yourself again, do you?
Just like we said at the start of this article, your thumbs are an important part of the body because they allow you to hold and manipulate objects. We saw that if you were to live a day without one or both of your thumbs, it would be hard for you to accomplish what you need to do.
We wrote this article because we want you to know that there are treatments available if you end up spraining your thumb. Also, remember that the treatments you choose for your injury will depend on the severity of your sprain.
Conservative treatments should be enough to heal it and you don’t have to worry about breaking the bank to get better because most of these treatments are simple and affordable.
Overall, treating an injured thumb isn’t as complicated as you might think. A simple cold therapy application with one of our ice wraps can do the trick to relieve your pain.
With the proper treatment, you’ll be back giving people a thumb’s up in no time!
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