Broken Hand: Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, and Treatment

2022-05-22 01:44:04 By : Ms. Lily Wang

Rod Brouhard is an emergency medical technician paramedic (EMT-P), journalist, educator, and advocate for emergency medical service providers and patients.

Michael Menna, DO, is a board-certified, active attending emergency medicine physician at White Plains Hospital in White Plains, New York.

Broken hands are painful, but not life-threatening. If the break is bad enough, there could be a loss of function or even a loss of part or all of the hand. So, a serious injury to the hand isn't going to kill you, but it shouldn't go untreated.

The symptoms of a broken hand are similar to those of other broken bones and include:

There are many situations that can lead to a broken hand, but most broken hands come from three distinct mechanisms of injury:

In most cases, a broken hand refers to a fracture of the metacarpals, which are the bones that connect the base of the fingers to the wrist. These are the bones of the palm. In some cases, it refers to a fracture of the phalanges (finger bones), with or without a dislocation.

You might be amazed how many people, when trying to come to the rescue of an injured comrade, get hurt in exactly the same way. Whatever broke your buddy's hand (or one of your hands) could break yours (or your other one).

If 911 was not called, seek medical assistance for additional pain relief and further evaluation of the injured hand. The use of an ambulance is probably not necessary, but ambulances in many areas are capable of providing additional pain relief.

An X-ray is required to diagnose a broken hand. There is no other way to tell if the hand is broken or not. It's not possible to diagnose a broken hand simply by observing it for swelling, bruising, or lack of function.

Most broken hands require some form of fixation to heal correctly and restore full function to the hand. The most common type of fixation is internal, using surgery to place pins through, or wires around, various bones to hold everything in place.

Fractures of the hand and fingers can also be treated without surgery as long as they can be held in proper alignment long enough to heal. This can be accomplished with a hand or finger splint.

During fixation, the doctor will usually treat pain with medications. Once the fracture is healed enough, you'll likely have to work on return of function using physical therapy.

Other broken bones require different specific treatments, depending on what's broken.

Each hand (not counting the wrist) has 19 bones, which means there's a lot of potential for fractures. About 10% of all injuries seen in the emergency department are broken hands and fingers. With this much potential for injury and a high probability of loss of function, it's very important to have a doctor examine your hand if you think it might be broken.

If you cannot move your hand or fingers after an injury, it is likely broken. Depending on the fracture, you may still be able to move your fingers. The ability to wiggle your fingers does not automatically mean your hand is not broken.

If you have a broken hand, you may experience pain, tenderness, swelling, discoloration, deformity, and an inability to move your hand or fingers. You may not necessarily experience all of the symptoms with a fracture. 

Of the 27 bones in the hand, the fifth metacarpal—the long, slender bone that supports the pinky finger—is the most common one to break. Also referred to as a boxer's fracture, a broken fifth metacarpal is often caused by punching or striking an object with a closed fist.

A broken bone in the hand will typically take about a month or more to heal. Most stable fractures will heal in four to six weeks, but more complicated breaks can take longer. A fractured hand typically requires a cast, brace, or splint to be worn for three to six weeks. If surgery is needed, it may take longer to heal.

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