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How do I Treat a Dislocated Thumb?

By Christina Edwards
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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The dorsal collateral ulnar collateral ligaments are the two main ligaments that keep a person's thumb in the proper place. When either of these ligaments is torn or damaged, usually after some sort of trauma, it is known as a dislocated thumb, or sometimes a jammed thumb. This is often extremely painful, and can result in abnormal thumb alignment if not treated properly. Resting and icing the dislocated thumb until you can receive proper medical care is considered to be very important. Afterward, your doctor will decide which type of treatment you need, depending on the severity of the injury.

If you even suspect that you may be suffering from a dislocated thumb, experts agree that the first thing you should do is rest the area, and stop using it. Though it might seem like the right thing to do, you should never try to fix or realign a dislocated thumb on your own. This can cause permanent damage to the tissues in the area.

Many doctors also recommend ice be applied to a dislocated thumb. To do this, apply an ice pack to the palm of the hand just under the thumb. If no ice pack is readily available, anything cold or frozen will do, such as a bag of frozen vegetables. This will lessen the amount of pain, as well as reduce the swelling in the affected area.

Splinting the dislocated thumb is one of the best ways to immobilize it. Your hand can swell substantially with this condition, so it is important to remove any jewelry from your hands. These can cut off the circulation, and cause some serious problems. Rings that are not easily removed may need to be snipped off with a ring cutter

When splinting the thumb, try to keep it in the same position that it ended up in, if at all possible. If you do not have an actual thumb or finger splint available, a straight, flat, hard stick, such as a popsicle stick, will do in a pinch. Begin by placing the stick gently on the palm, following the thumb. You can then tape the splint to the thumb, taping the tip of the thumb to the splint first. You can then tape the bottom of the splint as close to the thumb joint as possible, and finish by wrapping the thumb, splint, and hand with either an elastic bandage or a roll of gauze.

Even if you think that the dislocation is not severe and will heal on its own, immediate medical attention is strongly recommended to prevent further, more permanent damage. Probably the first thing that a doctor will do when you seek treatment for a dislocated thumb is take an x-ray. This will allow him to see the extent of the damage, including whether you have any broken bone. The dislocation can either be a simple or a complex dislocation.

In the case of a simple thumb dislocation, the ligaments are usually either stretched or torn only slightly. This kind of dislocated thumb is considered to be the easiest to treat, and usually just requires the doctor to maneuver the thumb back into the joint. Many times, the thumb will need to be immobilized, usually with a cast, for approximately three weeks. Afterward, the ability to move the digit slowly comes back.

A complex thumb dislocation is typically a little more serious, because at least one of the ligaments is torn completely. Most of the time, surgery is required to repair the damage. After the surgery, the thumb will usually need to be immobilized for up to six weeks. Some patients may also require physical therapy to regain full range of motion.

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Discussion Comments
By lluviaporos — On Oct 07, 2013

@MrsPramm - I wonder if that makes you more likely to get thumb arthritis. I would think that dislocating a body part would really damage the tissues of the joint, which could lead to more and more pain over time. And some people get arthritis because their joints have worn out, basically, so I would think that extra wear and tear would only hurt matters more.

I have never dislocated anything so far, thank goodness, but I've heard that it can hurt a huge amount. And even though they say you shouldn't try to pop it back in on your own, you do want to get an expert to do it as soon as possible, because the longer you leave it, the more your tissues swell up and the harder it is to get it back into place.

By MrsPramm — On Oct 07, 2013

@umbra21 - My mother has dislocated her thumb and fingers a couple of times and that might be true of your friend as well, because apparently it becomes easier for them to pop out and back the more you do it.

My mother hasn't gotten these thumb injuries on purpose, of course, but I've heard that some people do dislocate some of their joints on purpose in order to get better at performing stage tricks and things like that, which I think is kind of gross, really.

By umbra21 — On Oct 06, 2013

One of the strangest memories of my life was when I was drinking with a group of other students and we were playing some kind of chasing game, although I can't remember exactly what the point of it was. I was chasing one of the guys and he stopped suddenly and I crashed into him.

He managed to dislocate his thumb. He was pretty drunk by then and he just looked at it weird, like this scary looking thumb didn't pain him at all. And then he just popped it back into place.

I kind of freaked out, which was funny, because he was the one who had the injury. And I was terrified that he had damaged it somehow, but, aside from a bit of swelling, it seemed like it was OK the next day.

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