Overview

A broken hand is a break or crack in one or more of the bones of your hand. This injury can be caused by direct blows or falls. Motor vehicle crashes can cause hand bones to break, sometimes into many pieces, and often require surgical repair.

You may be at higher risk of a broken hand if you participate in contact sports like football or hockey, or if you have a condition in which bones become thinner and more fragile (osteoporosis).

It's important to treat a broken hand as soon as possible. Otherwise, the bones might not heal in proper alignment, which might affect your ability to do everyday activities, such as writing or buttoning a shirt. Early treatment will also help minimize pain and stiffness.

Symptoms

A broken hand might cause these signs and symptoms:

  • Severe pain that might worsen when gripping or squeezing or moving your hand
  • Swelling
  • Tenderness
  • Bruising
  • Obvious deformity, such as a crooked finger
  • Stiffness or inability to move your fingers or thumb
  • Numbness in your hand or fingers

When to call a doctor

If you think you might have a broken hand, see a doctor immediately, especially if you have numbness, swelling or trouble moving your fingers. A delay in diagnosis and treatment can lead to poor healing, decreased range of motion and decreased grip strength.

Causes

Hand fractures can be caused by a direct blow or crushing injury. Motor vehicle crashes can cause hand bones to break, sometimes into many pieces, and often require surgical repair.

Risk factors

Your risk of a broken hand may be increased if you participate in sports like football, soccer, rugby, or hockey. Osteoporosis, a condition that weakens bones, may also increase your risk of a broken hand.

Complications

Complications of a broken hand are rare, but they might include:

  • Ongoing stiffness, aching or disability. Stiffness, pain or aching in the affected area generally goes away eventually after your cast is removed or after surgery. However, some people have permanent stiffness or pain. Be patient with your recovery, and talk to your doctor about exercises that might help or for a referral to physical or occupational therapy.
  • Osteoarthritis. Fractures that extend into a joint can cause arthritis years later. If your hand starts to hurt or swell long after a break, see your doctor for an evaluation.
  • Nerve or blood vessel damage. Trauma to the hand can injure adjacent nerves and blood vessels. Seek immediate attention if you have numbness or circulation problems.

Prevention

It's impossible to prevent the unforeseen events that often cause a broken hand. But these tips might offer some protection.

Build bone strength

To build strong bones:

  • Eat a nutritious diet with adequate calcium and vitamin D
  • Get plenty of weight-bearing exercise, such as brisk walking
  • Quit smoking if you're a smoker

Prevent falls

Hand fractures can occur when people fall forward onto an outstretched hand. To prevent this common injury:

  • Wear sensible shoes
  • Remove things you can trip over in your home, such as throw rugs
  • Light up your living space
  • Have your vision checked and, if needed, corrected
  • Install grab bars in your bathroom
  • Install handrails on your stairways
  • Avoid slippery surfaces, if possible, such as snow- or ice-covered walkways
Dec. 20, 2018
References
  1. Wrist fractures. American Society for Surgery of the Hand. http://www.assh.org/handcare/hand-arm-injuries/wrist-fractures. Accessed April 20, 2017.
  2. Sebastin S, et al. Overview of finger, hand, and wrist fractures. https://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed April 20, 2017.
  3. Scaphoid fracture of the wrist. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=A00012. Accessed April 20, 2017.
  4. Williams AA, et al. Pediatric hand and wrist injuries. Current Reviews in Musculoskeletal Medicine. 2013;6:18.
  5. Petron DJ. Distal radius fractures in adults. https://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed April 20, 2017.
  6. Bone health. National Institute for Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. http://www.niams.nih.gov/Health_Info/Bone_Health/default.asp. Accessed April 21, 2017.
  7. Pountos I, et al. Do nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs affect bone healing? A critical analysis. The Scientific World Journal. 2012;2012:606404. https://www.hindawi.com/journals/tswj/2012/606404/. Accessed May 22, 2017.

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