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19th February, 20212 min read

Broken thumb: Symptoms, treatment and recovery

Medical reviewer: Dr Ann Nainan
Author: Dr Lauretta Ihonor
Last reviewed: 07/02/2021
Medically reviewed

All of Healthily's articles undergo medical safety checks to verify that the information is medically safe. View more details in our safety page, or read our editorial policy.

A thumb fracture or broken thumb is a break in 1 of the 2 bones that make up the thumb. It can be caused by injuring your thumb – for example by bending or twisting it too far, or hitting it on something hard and heavy.

It’s not always easy to tell if an injured thumb is broken or sprained, that’s why it’s important to see a doctor or go to the emergency room if there’s a chance that you’ve broken your thumb.

Symptoms of a broken thumb

The exact symptoms you may notice if you have a broken thumb can depend on the part of your thumb that’s affected, the direction of the break and if it’s an open (the broken bone sticks out of your skin) or closed fracture (the broken bone doesn’t stick out of your skin).

But, common symptoms of a broken thumb include:

  • pain
  • swelling
  • bruising
  • trouble moving the thumb as normal

How to tell if your thumb is broken

A doctor may suspect a broken thumb based on your symptoms and how you injured your thumb, but you will usually need an X-ray to confirm the diagnosis.

Treatment for a broken thumb

If you think you’ve broken your thumb, you can do a few things to help your symptoms while waiting to see a doctor. These include:

  • taking painkillers – avoid non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) until a doctor says it’s OK to take them
  • removing any rings from the injured hand
  • not moving your thumb – try taping it to the finger next to it to keep it still
  • holding ice wrapped in a cloth against your thumb for 15 to 20 minutes every 2 to 3 hours to reduce the swelling
  • holding your thumb up (if possible) to help reduce the swelling

Medical treatment may include:

  • numbing your thumb with local anaesthetic before straightening it back into its normal position
  • holding your thumb still – e.g. by putting it in a splint or cast
  • giving you a tetanus injection or antibiotics (if there's a cut) to prevent infection
  • surgery, in some cases – e.g if you’ve got nerve damage or many breaks in the bone
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