Thumb Dislocation

A thumb dislocation occurs when the tissues, or ligaments, that hold the joint together are torn. The bones then move, or are dislocated, out of their normal position. This causes pain, swelling, and bruising. Sometimes there is also a small fracture. You may need surgery to keep the joint in place while it heals. This may be the case if your injury is severe and the joint is not stable.

Once the joint is back in place again, it will take about 6 to 8 weeks or more for the ligaments to heal. During this time, your thumb should be protected from re-injury. This may be done with a cast or splint.

Finger splints prevent motion at the joint. They should generally not be left in place longer than 3 weeks to avoid stiffness and loss of joint function.

Hand exercises may be prescribed at your follow-up visit. These can help speed healing and maintain function. In most cases you will regain full function of your thumb. But it may take 12 to 18 months before all mild pain and swelling goes away and full function returns.

Home care

  • Keep your arm elevated to reduce pain and swelling. When sitting or lying down, raise your arm above the level of your heart. You can do this by placing your arm on a pillow that rests on your chest. Or you can place your arm on a pillow at your side. This is most important during the first 48 hours after injury.

  • Apply an ice pack over the injured area for no more than 20 minutes. Do this every 3 to 6 hours for the first 24 to 48 hours. To make an ice pack, put ice cubes in a sealed, zip-lock plastic bag, then wrap in a thin, clean towel or cloth. Don't put ice or an ice pack directly on your skin. As the ice melts, be careful that the tape, gauze, cast, or splint doesn’t get wet. After that, keep using ice packs as needed to ease pain and swelling.

  • Keep the splint or cast dry at all times. Bathe with your splint or cast out of the water, protected with 2 large plastic bags. Place 1 bag around the other. Tape each bag with tape at the top end or use rubber bands. Water can still leak in even when your hand is covered. So it's best to keep any tape, splint, or cast away from water. If a fiberglass cast or splint gets wet, you can dry it with a hair-dryer on a cool setting. A vacuum cleaner with a hose attachment can also be used to pull air through the cast for speed drying.

  • You may use over-the-counter pain medicine to control pain, unless another pain medicine was prescribed. Talk with your healthcare provider before taking these medicines if you have chronic liver or kidney disease, or if you have ever had a stomach ulcer or gastrointestinal bleeding.

  • Don't play sports or do any physical exercise until your healthcare provider says that you can.

Follow-up care

Follow up with your healthcare provider in the next 2 to 3 weeks, or as advised. It is important that you see the referral doctor. He or she can determine how long to leave any splint or cast in place and when to begin hand exercises.

If X-rays were taken, you will be told of any new findings that may affect your care.

When to seek medical advice

Call your healthcare provider right away if any of the following occur:

  • The injured thumb has increased pain or swelling

  • The injured thumb is red, warm, or has drainage

  • The injured thumb becomes cold, blue, numb, or tingly

  • The plaster cast or splint becomes wet or soft

  • The cast or splint has a bad smell

  • The splint or cast is too tight or too loose

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