Thumb fracture

Your thumb injury may be referred to as a fracture, break or crack. These terms all mean the same thing.

When you have a fracture, it's not just the bone that's affected. You'll also have injured some of the soft tissues around it. Soft tissues include the:

  • muscles
  • ligaments
  • tendons
  • nerves

Recovery times

Most of the healing happens between 3 to 6 weeks after your thumb fracture.

It's normal to have aches and discomfort beyond this. This usually happens when you try activities you haven’t done for a while. It's also normal for the area to be more sensitive for a while after the injury.

It's good to use your hand in day-to-day activities. However, remember that this is exercise too. Sometimes you might need to rest if your hand aches after doing some activities.

What can affect your recovery?

There are some things that might impact on your recovery.

Smoking

Smoking affects all of your tissues and slows facture healing times. In some people, it can stop healing altogether.

Stopping smoking as your fracture heals will help to ensure the best recovery.

Get help to stop smoking.

General health

Some medical conditions, like diabetes, may slow down the healing process.

Eating a healthy diet and keeping yourself active will help your recovery.

Medication

Some medications can slow down fracture healing. If you have concerns about your medication, talk to a healthcare professional.

Anti-inflammatory medication, like Ibuprofen or Naproxen, has been shown to delay healing.

What to expect after a thumb fracture

A thumb fracture is a minor fracture. It's often treated in the same way as a sprain.

Some people may be fitted with a splint or a wrist splint with a thumb piece. You may only need these for a couple of weeks.

Pain after a thumb fracture

It's normal to have some discomfort in the areas around your fracture, including:

  • other soft tissues
  • nearby joints
  • areas that have been immobilised

Pain can change from day to day and it doesn’t always depend on what you're doing. It's common to have pain at rest.

It's normal to have some pain even when your fracture has healed. Some people also experience discomfort in the fracture site during colder weather.

Your local pharmacy can give you advice on managing pain after a fracture.

Find your local pharmacy

Use Scotland's Service Directory to find your local pharmacy.

Pharmacies

Swelling

Swelling is the start of healing. It's normal to have swelling near the fracture. It can then spread into your hand or wrist.

The swelling might change depending on:

  • your position
  • your activity
  • the time of day

Even when your fracture has healed it's normal to have some swelling. This can last for several months.

How can I help swelling?

Having a lot of swelling can become uncomfortable or limit your movement. There are some things you can do to reduce the swelling. You can try to:

  • raise your arm above your heart when you're resting - you can do this by supporting it with pillows
  • keep the other joints in your hand and arm moving normally
  • avoid too much rest and too much activity
  • massage the swelling

Bruising

It's normal to have bruising after a fracture.

Bruising can be widespread and may appear a long way from your fracture. It can be very purple to start with and may change colour as you recover.

Getting back to normal activities

There are some things you should consider when trying to get back to your normal activities.

Driving

You should contact your insurance provider before driving. Your injury may affect your insurance.

Once you're out of your splint, you must be able to safely perform an emergency stop or manoeuvre.

You should always be in full control of your vehicle.

Work

Your return to work will depend on the type of work you do and your employer. It may be possible to discuss a phased return to work or changed duties.

You don’t need to see a healthcare professional to return to work.

Hobbies and interests

Keep doing any activities you're able to, as your pain allows. Gradually increase what you do.

Reduced flexibility and strength may make things more difficult to start with. This will get better as you slowly build up to all of your usual activities.

Mood

Frustration or low mood after an injury is normal. As you get back to normal life this should get better.

Falls

Loss of confidence is common after a fracture.

Further advice about preventing falls.

Rehabilitation plan

There are things you can do to help your recovery after a thumb fracture.

0 to 3 weeks after your injury

Between 0 to 3 weeks after your injury, you should:

  • use the affected hand within the splint for light activities like eating, dressing or typing on a keyboard, as long as the pain allows
  • increase the movement in your thumb, fingers and wrist with gentle exercises
  • manage your pain and swelling
  • wean yourself out of using your splint as far as comfort allows

3 to 6 weeks after your injury

After 3 to 6 weeks you can gradually return your hand to full function. You can also begin to resume normal day to day activities.

You should avoid contact sports or heavy lifting until at least 12 weeks post fracture. 

Stop exercising if it makes your symptoms worse, or it causes new pain.

Help and support

If your thumb function hasn’t improved within 6 weeks of following this advice, it’s a good idea to talk to a healthcare professional about your symptoms.

Last updated:
01 August 2022