How to Heal a Sprained Thumb

by Kevin Pederson

The connective tissues that connect bones are known as ligaments, and an injury to a ligament can cause a sprain. In sports and falls, thumb sprains are common. The thumb may bend outside its normal range of movement because of excessive force. This backward movement of the thumb results in the damage of the ligaments supporting the metacarpo-phalangeal joint – which is the joint at the bottom of the thumb, and causes a sprained thumb.

How to Heal a Sprained Thumb

A sprained thumb is a common occurrence in sports such as volleyball and football as the players use their hands more frequently. A sprained thumb can also occur during a fall. During a fall, it is natural to brace yourself from falling by splaying your hands out. The impact of the body weight can make the thumb bend backwards, resulting in a sprained thumb.


Pain and swelling are common symptoms of a sprained thumb. Pain can be experienced during movements like bending the thumb backwards. Other symptoms include:

  • Swelling at the bottom of the joint
  • Stiffness
  • Bruising around the affected area
  • Difficult to grasp items between the thumb and index finger
  • Laxity and inability in the joint

Usually, symptoms are aggravated by activities that involve the use of hands, fingers, and the thumb such as opening jars, household activities, cooking, etc. Some patients may experience a feeling of weakness in the hand and thumb.


First, it is essential to ensure the thumb is sprained and not broken. X-rays are taken to rule out the possibility of a fracture. In case of a partially torn ligament, a cast or splint is used to speed up the healing process. The splint prevents the thumb from overextending.  If the ligament of ulnar collateral ligament tears completely, surgery is required to repair it.

Treatment may comprise thumb taping, thumb bracing, electrotherapy, soft tissue massage, ice or heat therapy, exercises to restore flexibility and mobility, etc. It is essential to keep the thumb immobile to prevent further injury.

Treatments for all kinds of sprains have two stages. In the first stage, treatment is given to reduce pain and swelling. RICE (rest, ice, compression and elevation) is first recommended for the first 48 hours. Pain relievers and anti-inflammatory medication are prescribed to reduce swelling and pain.

The second stage is the rehabilitation process that deals with the overall improvement of the condition of the injured area. With appropriate physiotherapy, most patients with a strained thumb can make a good recovery. However, it is important to take rest until the complete healing.

Wearing a protective brace helps it to protect from further damage. A soft splint is used to prevent excessive movement, and a rigid splint will curb the thumb from moving. Depending on the severity of the injury, the doctor will choose the one that best suits the patient’s case. Moreover, depending on the severity of the injury, patients with a sprained thumb can return to normal within four to six weeks. Patients with severe injury may require a longer period for healing. In order to prevent a re-injury and restore stability, strengthening exercises are important.

Often, people ignore a sprained thumb with the hope that it will resolve its own. However, if the sprained thumb is not treated properly it may lead to permanent instability and may require surgery to rebuild the ligament. It is best to first consult a doctor.



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