In the hustle and bustle of daily life, accidents happen, leaving pain, discomfort and fear. One of the common accidents involves “Thumb Dislocation”.
Dislocation of thumb and fingers is very common during household tasks while playing games or even with a simple misstep. As complex as it sounds, the instance can be very unsettling, leaving a lot of pain and discomfort behind.
However, the good news is that prompt action and the right know-how can fix a dislocated thumb quickly. So, if you often find yourself or someone facing this discomfort, here’s all you need to do.
What is Thumb Dislocation?
A thumb dislocation is when the bone at the base of the thumb displaces from its original position. This particular bone is known as the ‘First Metacarpal’; it is forced out from its normal position within the joint during the dislocation.
This displacement cannot particularly represent a fracture; however, it may be equally or sometimes even more painful. Similarly, instances can occur with fingers or even shoulder bones, usually due to a fall, accident, sports injury, or sudden physical shock during regular work.
Thumb Dislocation is very common due to its wide range of motions. Some of its common causes include:
- A strong impact on the thumb, directly or indirectly, from an awkward angle. This can overstretch or sometimes tear the ligaments that hold the joints together, leading to dislocation.
- Sports/ Athletic activities involving high-risk contacts.
- Traumatic impact such as a fall or a blow.
- Accidental injury/ mishaps like catching the thumb between a door or other objects.
- Improper execution of hand techniques.
Recognising the Symptoms
For prompt and effective management, recognising the symptoms of a dislocated thumb is essential. Here are some of the common signs:
- The thumb may appear out of its normal position/ alignment within the hand.
- Immediate swelling or bruising/ discolouration around the thumb joint due to blood vessel damage.
- Tenderness to touch and intense pain at the base of the thumb.
- Limited range of motion or inability to move the thumb.
- Weakness and instability in the thumb.
- Numbness of Tingling sensation.
- Difficulty in using the hand.
- An audible pop or snap sound from the thumb.
Fixing a Dislocated Thumb
Based upon the above symptoms, if you suspect a dislocated thumb, seek medical help immediately. However, before reaching a professional, perform immediate first aid.
Immediate First Aid
- Encourage the individual (or yourself) to stabilise the thumb and hand as still as possible. Doing so is essential, as excessive movement can lead to damage.
- Use a finger splint or any rigid object (like a rolled-up newspaper) to maintain the thumb’s position.
- To reduce swelling, apply a cold compress or an ice pack. However, make sure you place a thin cloth between an ice pack and the skin to avoid frostbite.
- Raise the hand above the heart levels using a pillow or cushion to minimise swelling.
- During the initial stage, do not apply heat as it may increase the swelling and pain.
- If the pain is unbreakable, take an over-the-counter painkiller until you reach medical help.
- Lastly, do not try to relocate the thumb and leave it for professionals, as improper manipulation may lead to injuries.
- A healthcare professional will follow a medical evaluation to examine the affected finger. The doctor may conduct a physical examination followed by an X-ray to discover the extent of dislocation and if there’s added damage.
- Upon confirmation of thumb dislocation, the doctor may perform a controlled reduction. This procedure involves gently manoeuvring the dislocation joint (thumb in this case) to return it to the normal position. Expert medical professionals perform reduction in a carefully controlled manner to gain success while minimising pain and chances of further damage. Sometimes, the process may be performed under general anaesthesia to reduce pain.
- Further, the doctor may suggest immobilising the thumb using a brace or splint for proper healing. Its duration may vary depending on the severity of the dislocation. However, this might be optional with individuals who often suffer from dislocation and are comfortably habitual.
- The doctor may even prescribe pain relief meditation to manage discomfort or may suggest rehabilitation with a physical therapist.
How long does it take to recover?
The recovery time may vary depending upon the dislocation severity, the individual’s healing capacity and promptness of medical treatment. In general, first aid and professional medical help don’t take much time. However, reducing swelling and managing pain might take 1 to 2 weeks.
During this duration, the thumb must be kept immobilized to heal the soft tissues and ligaments. After controlled mobilisation, the stiffness may subside in the next 2 to 6 weeks, promoting flexibility. Slowly, most patients resume their regular lifestyle in 6 to 12 weeks; however, some might take longer depending upon the complexity of the condition.
Differentiation Between Thumb Dislocation and Other Injuries
Here’s a quick and easy guide to help with the differentiation:
Dislocation vs. Fracture
The former involves joint displacement, and the latter involves a break or crack in the bone. Both situations may manifest similar symptoms; thus, an X-ray might be necessary.
Dislocation vs. Sprain
A Sprain involves tearing or stretching of the ligaments. While most symptoms may be the same, a sprain does not involve dislocation/ displacement.
Dislocation vs. Tender Injury
Dislocation primarily affects the joint and surrounding structure, whereas the latter involves damage to the tendons. An x-ray might be necessary to differentiate the two.
Overall, understanding how to fix a dislocated thumb can help during unwanted situations for oneself or others. Recognising the symptoms is crucial to assist with first aid for immediate comfort. However, despite that, seeking professional help is imperative since situations like these aren’t meant to be resolved at home.
Make sure you reach a professional to deal with such conditions, not only for the right treatment but also for avoiding further damage. Ultimately, it is the collaboration between the doctor and the patient.
- McCarley M., Foreman M. Chronic carpometacarpal dislocation of the thumb: a case report and review of the literature. JBJS Case Connect. 2018;8:49. [PubMed]
- Jeong C., Kim H.M., Lee S.U., Park I.J. Bilateral carpometacarpal joint dislocations of the thumb. Clin Orthop Surg. 2012;4:246–248. [PMC free article]