Broken Thumb (Child)

Your child has a broken bone (fracture) in the thumb. A broken thumb will likely be painful, swollen, and bruised. It may be crooked. Or it may look normal, but your child can't move it.

To confirm the break, X-rays or other imaging tests are done. The hand is then put into a splint or cast to protect the thumb and hold the bone in place while it heals. A broken bone usually heals within 4 to 6 weeks. But it may take longer depending on the extent of the injury. Depending on the location and severity of the break, your child may need more treatment. This might include surgery. 

If the thumbnail has been injured, it will probably fall off in 1 to 2 weeks. In some cases, it must be surgically removed. A new thumbnail will likely start to grow back within a month.

Home care

  • The healthcare provider may prescribe medicines for pain. Follow the provider's instructions for giving these medicines to your child. Don't give your child aspirin unless told to by the child’s provider.

  • Keep the child's hand elevated to reduce pain and swelling. This is most important during the first 48 hours after injury. As often as possible, have the child sit or lie down and place pillows under the child’s arm until the hand is raised above the level of the heart. For babies and toddlers, lay the child down and place pillows under the arm until the injury is raised above the level of the heart. Be sure the pillows don't move near the face of the baby or toddler. Never leave the child unsupervised.

  • Apply a cold pack to the injury to help control swelling. You can make a cold pack by wrapping a plastic bag of ice cubes in a thin towel. As the ice melts, be careful that the cast or splint doesn’t get wet. Don't place the ice directly on the skin, because this can cause damage. You can place a cold pack directly over a splint or cast.

  • Ice the injured area for up to 20 minutes every 1 to 2 hours the first day. Continue this 3 to 4 times a day for the next 2 days, then as needed. It may help to make a game of using the ice. But don't force your child to use the ice. 

  • Care for the splint or cast as you’ve been instructed. Don’t put any powders or lotions inside the splint or cast. Keep your child from sticking objects into the splint or cast.

  • Keep a splint or cast completely dry at all times. Cover the splint or cast with a plastic bag when your child bathes. Close the top end of the bag with tape or rubber bands. Keep the bag out of the water.

Follow-up care

Follow up with the child's healthcare provider, or as advised. Follow-up X-rays may be needed to see how the bone is healing. If your child was given a splint, it may be changed to a cast at the follow-up visit. If you were referred to a specialist, make that appointment promptly.

Special note to parents

Healthcare providers are trained to recognize injuries like this one in young children as a sign of possible abuse. Several healthcare providers may ask questions about how your child was injured. Healthcare providers are required by law to ask you these questions. This is done for protection of the child. Please try to be patient and not take offense.

When to seek medical advice

Call your child's healthcare provider right away if any of these occur:

  • Wet or soft splint or cast

  • Splint or cast is too tight. Loosen a splint before calling for help.

  • Increasing swelling or pain after a splint or cast is put on the hand. Babies not yet old enough to talk may show pain with crying that can't be soothed.

  • Injured thumb, nearby fingers, or the hand are cold, blue, numb, burning, or tingly 

  • Child can’t move the fingers on the injured hand

  • Redness, warmth, swelling, or drainage from the wound, or foul odor from the cast or splint

  • In babies, fussiness or crying that can't be soothed

  • Fever (see Fever and children, below)

  • Chills

Call 911

Call 911 if your child has:

  • Trouble breathing

  • Confusion

  • Trouble awakening or is very drowsy

  • Fainting or loss of consciousness

  • Rapid heart rate

  • Seizure

  • Stiff neck

Fever and children

Always use a digital thermometer to check your child’s temperature. Never use a mercury thermometer.

For babies and toddlers, be sure to use a rectal thermometer correctly. A rectal thermometer may accidentally poke a hole in (perforate) the rectum. It may also pass on germs from the stool. Always follow the product maker’s directions for proper use. If you don’t feel comfortable taking a rectal temperature, use another method. When you talk to your child’s healthcare provider, tell him or her which method you used to take your child’s temperature.

Here are guidelines for fever temperature. Ear temperatures aren’t accurate before 6 months of age. Don’t take an oral temperature until your child is at least 4 years old.

Baby under 3 months old:

  • Ask your child’s healthcare provider how you should take the temperature.

  • Rectal or forehead (temporal artery) temperature of 100.4°F (38°C) or higher, or as directed by the provider

  • Armpit temperature of 99°F (37.2°C) or higher, or as directed by the provider

Child age 3 to 36 months:

  • Rectal, forehead (temporal artery), or ear temperature of 102°F (38.9°C) or higher, or as directed by the provider

  • Armpit temperature of 101°F (38.3°C) or higher, or as directed by the provider

Child of any age:

  • Repeated temperature of 104°F (40°C) or higher, or as directed by the provider

  • Fever that lasts more than 24 hours in a child under 2 years old. Or a fever that lasts for 3 days in a child 2 years or older.

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