Broken Hand

Reviewed by Arefa Cassoobhoy, MD, MPH on August 17, 2020

Every year, millions of people break bones in their hands. Because we do so much with our hands, even a small loss of function can cause lifelong problems. A broken hand often requires a visit to a doctor, and you may need months of rehabilitation care.

  • Your hand is made up of 27 bones, including those in the wrist. Broken bones most often result from a direct blow to the hand or a fall onto the hand. Common injuries include fractures of the fingertip, or of the pinky side of the palm, or of the thumb.
  • When doctors describe the bones in the hand, they use several terms.
    • Carpals are the 8 bones in your wrist. They aren’t actually part of the hand but are key to the way it works.
    • Metacarpals are the 5 bones that form the palm of your hand.
    • Phalanges are the 14 small bones that, when strung together, form the thumb and fingers. The thumb has 2 phalanges. The other 4 fingers are made of 3 phalanges each.
    • The knuckles of your hand are referred to as MCP joints. This stands for metacarpophalangeal joint (because the fingers, composed of phalanges, join the palm, made of metacarpals).
    • The joints in your fingers are called the PIP and DIP joints. The PIP joint is the proximal interphalangeal joint and is the joint closest to the palm. The DIP joint is the distal interphalangeal joint and is the joint closest to the fingertip.

Broken Hand Symptoms

Most injuries of the hand are fairly obvious. The symptoms may include the following:

  • Numbness
  • Swelling
  • Bruising
  • Pain
  • Misaligned fingers
  • Weakness
  • Not being able to grasp
  • Reduced range of motion of fingers

When to seek medical care

Your hands are so key to everything you do that you should see a doctor right away for anything but the smallest hand injury. They can make sure there’s no permanent damage. They may refer you to the emergency department for diagnosis and treatment.

Broken Hand Causes

The most common causes of hand injuries include workplace injuries, improper use of tools, crush injuries, falls, and sports injuries. Most of these injuries can be prevented.

Broken Hand Diagnosis

Most injuries of the hand will require an X-ray. Your doctor will ask how the hand was injured. This will help them figure out which bone is broken and how it broke: Is it a clean break straight across the bone? Is it broken into several pieces? Is it shattered?

The doctor will touch your fingers, hand, and wrist to figure out which areas hurt the most. It also helps them decide if there’s any damage to the blood vessels, nerves, or tendons in your hand.

Broken Hand Treatment

Medical treatment

Because the hand is so complex, treatment of hand injuries can be involved. The procedure is usually as follows:

  • The doctor may numb your hand with a shot at the wrist or at the base of a finger.
  • They’ll check, wash out, and close up any wounds.
  • They'll use a splint to keep the injured part still and to hold it in a particular position.
  • They may need to refer you to a hand specialist (orthopedic or plastic surgeon).
  • You might need pain medicine to use for several days after the injury.

Home remedies

Generally, you should see a doctor for any hand injury, except the most minor ones. But simple first aid can help prevent further damage:

  • Control any bleeding by placing a clean cloth or gauze pad over the wound.
  • As soon as the injury happens, put ice on the injured area to ease pain and reduce swelling.
  • Take off any jewelry right away. Your hand may swell dramatically, making it harder to remove later.
  • Call your doctor. They’ll probably tell you to go to the emergency room for diagnosis and treatment.

Follow-Up

After you leave the hospital or doctor's office, take these steps to help your hand heal:

  • Follow any instructions they give you. Ask questions about those you don’t understand.
  • If they give you a splint, don’t remove it until the doctor says it’s OK.
  • Take pain medicine as recommended. Often, a hand injury will throb all night, keeping you awake.
  • Keep your hand elevated as much as possible. This will ease pain and swelling.
  • Keep your follow-up appointments, and take all medicines as directed.

Broken Hand Prevention

To prevent hand injuries on the job:

  • Look for hand hazards before an accident happens.
  • Don't use your hands to wipe away debris in a machine. Instead, use a brush designed for that purpose.
  • Check equipment and machinery before you start and after you finish. Be sure it’s in good condition.
  • Before you repair or clean machinery, make sure the power is disconnected and follow all safety procedures.
  • Don’t wear gloves, jewelry, or loose clothing when working near a machine with moving parts.
  • Wear the correct protective equipment, such as gloves, guards, or forearm cuffs, for the work you’re doing.
  • Be sure your gloves fit properly and are meant for the work you’re doing.
  • Use appropriate safety equipment while playing sports to prevent or limit the extent of fractures.
    • Hand and wrist guards are good for sports like rollerblading, lacrosse, and hockey.
    • Sports that involve a ball (football, basketball, baseball, softball, volleyball) are more likely to cause hand injuries. Take special care when playing these games.
  • Practice household safety measures, especially with small children, to cut the chances of all injuries, including those to the hands.
  • Get your hand treated right away to prevent long-term disability.
  • Avoid using your hands to punch, hit, or pound any objects in anger.

Broken Hand Outlook

Hand injuries and finger injuries can affect everything you do, so it’s important that you get them thoroughly checked. Your outlook depends on whether the injury involves a joint, whether you lost tissue, if you get an infection, and how well you follow instructions. You may need surgery and physical therapy to regain the use of your hand after even a minor fracture.

WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES:

eMedicineHealth: “Broken Hand.”

Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care: “How do hands work?”

Johns Hopkins Medicine: “Anatomy of the Hand.”

American Society for Surgery of the Hand: “Joints.”

Mayo Clinic: “Broken hand,” “Fractures (broken bones).”

UCSF Health: “Hand and Wrist Fractures Diagnosis.”

Merck Manual: “Overview of Fractures.”

American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons: “Hand Fractures.”

Canadian Family Physician: “Approach to traumatic hand injuries for primary care physicians.”

American Society for Surgery of the Hand: “Ask a Doctor -- Hand Fractures.”

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