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How to care for a sprained thumb

A sprained thumb occurs when the thumb is bent out of its normal range of movement and usually it is in the backward direction. This results to damage to the ligaments at the joints at the base of the thumb.

A sprained thumb usually happens while playing sports such as football and volleyball where players frequently use their hands. It can also happen during a fall since spreading out the hands is the natural way of bracing the body from a fall. The impact of the weight of the body drives the thumb to bend backwards and cause a sprained thumb.

The sprain causes pain at the time of the injury especially when the area is bent backwards. Pain can be felt at the web of the thumb when it is moved. The metacarpo-phalangeal joint found at the bottom of the thumb starts to well and the joint becomes unstable and loose.

Other symptoms of a sprained thumb

  • Stiffness of the affected area
  • There is swelling at the bottom of the joint
  • Difficulty in grasping objects between the thumb and the index finger and it becomes worse when opening jars, cooking and performing household activities.
  • Weakness of the hand and thumb
    Sprained thumb

    Stiffness of the affected area


  • Rest the affected thumb for at least 48 hours for fast healing of the condition. Avoid lifting heavy objects or bend the thumb to prevent making the condition worse.
  • Apply an ice pack on the affected thumb immediately after the injury for at least 20 minutes and then take it off and then wait for another 20 minutes and then reapply again to the area. Continue with this process for the first 48 hours after the injury. Ice lowers the temperature of the affected area and lessens the swelling. Avoid applying the ice pack directly on the skin to prevent frostbite that can worsen the condition. Wrap the ice pack using a towel or a small piece of cloth before placing on the affected area.
  • Utilize a brace or wrap on the sprained thumb. You have to place compression around the affected area to restrain the thumb and for stability of the area. It prevents unnecessary movement and minimizes the accumulation of fluid. Use a wrap bandage on the sprained thumb but if the sprain is severe, wear a prescribed spica splint that completely immobilizes the thumb.
  • Elevate the affected thumb above the level of the heart to lessen the painful swelling and prevent accumulation of fluid on the damaged area.
  • Take the prescribed anti-inflammatory pain medication such as ibuprofen or naproxen to lessen the inflammation and swelling and for fast healing of the condition.
  • Seek the help of a physical therapist for rehabilitation exercises for mobility and strengthening. Some exercises such as putty exercises or hand exercise balls are good for the condition.
  • Gradually return to sports within 4-6 weeks depending on the condition of the injury.

More Information

The material posted on this page on sprains and strains is for learning purposes only. To learn to recognize and manage this and other skeletal injuries register for a standard first aid course with one of our training providers in Canada.

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