What is a sprained finger or thumb?

A sprained finger or thumb occurs when ligaments which support the finger/thumb joints are overstretched or torn due to an injury or trauma. Ligaments are strong tissues found around the joints that connect bones with other bones. They help to keep the bones in proper alignment by stabilising the joints.

Finger or thumb sprains are very common and tend to be caused by sports injuries (e.g. ball games, contact sports) or trauma (e.g. falls, road traffic accidents), whereby strong forces bend the finger/thumb too far backwards or sideways, stretching or tearing ligaments in the process. Sprains can range from a stretch or tiny tear in the ligament fibres to a complete tear through the ligament or through its attachment to the bone (an avulsion fracture).

How do I know if I have a sprained finger or thumb?

Signs and symptoms of a sprained finger or thumb may include:

  • Pain when trying to move the finger/thumb joint
  • Swelling and/or bruising in the finger/thumb joint
  • Stiffness of the finger/thumb joint
  • Finger/thumb joint may feel loose or unstable
  • Difficulty grasping objects with the finger/thumb

How is a sprained finger or thumb diagnosed?

Your specialist Doctor will obtain your health history and perform a physical examination. Your Doctor may also order radiological investigations (e.g. X-rays, MRI scans, ultrasound scans) to help diagnose and assess the severity of the injury.

How is a sprained finger or thumb treated?

It is important to seek early treatment for a sprained finger or thumb to prevent any permanent deformity or loss of function in the finger/thumb. A sprained finger or thumb can be treated both surgically and non-surgically, depending on the severity of the injury.

Non-surgical Treatment

Sprains of mild to moderate severity can be managed conservatively by resting and immobilising the finger/thumb with a bandage, cast or splint. The cast or splint helps to hold the injured joint in a stable position while the ligament heals and needs to be worn for a period of 2 to 6 weeks, depending on the severity of the injury. Once the joint/ligament is stable and healing adequately, our Hand Therapist will be able to start gentle finger/thumb exercises.

Surgical Treatment

For a severe sprain, your specialist Doctor may recommend that you undergo surgery to restore the stability of the joint. This is done by reconnecting the ligament to the bone and/or repairing the avulsion fracture using a pin, screw, or special bone anchor. After surgery, your finger/thumb may be placed in a cast or splint for around 4 to 6 weeks to protect the ligament while it heals. Once the joint/ligament is stable and healing adequately, our Hand Therapist will be able to start gentle finger/thumb exercises.

Hand Therapy

Joint stiffness, muscle tightness and loss of function of the hand are common problems in the early stages of recovery from a sprained finger/thumb. As such, daily activities such as self-care (e.g. feeding, showering, brushing of teeth), work activities (e.g. typing, carrying loads) and leisure pursuits (e.g. sports activities, playing of musical instruments) are often affected. Hand therapy plays a pivotal role in the recovery of hand movement, strength and function after a sprained finger/thumb. Most sprains take around 6 to 12 weeks to heal before you are able to return to your normal daily activities, while severe injuries can take months for a full recovery.

If you require protective immobilisation for your finger/thumb sprain, your specialist Doctor may refer you to our Hand Therapist for a customised splint. Once you are able to start therapy for your finger/thumb, our Hand Therapist can then help you in your recovery through treatment options such as:

  • Advice and education pertaining to your condition
  • Wax therapy
  • Ultrasound therapy
  • Exercises to improve finger/thumb joint and muscle movements
  • Management of swelling
  • Scar management
  • Strengthening exercises
  • Soft tissue mobilisation and release
  • Pain relief/management
  • Functional retraining of the hand
  • Personalised home exercise program