How Do I Know if My Hand is Fractured?

A hand fracture means that you’ve broken one or more of the bones in your hand. This is far easier to do than you might imagine as there are 27 bones in this complex architecture in the body.

Your hands see a lot of use every day, making them vulnerable to injury, whether it’s from a high force impact to diseases that weaken the bone.

What you may not realize is that bone is living tissue. Your bones, like your skin, just need the right conditions to heal itself. The good news is that in healthy humans, our bones are resilient and strong.

What Are the Types of Hand Fractures?

Bones are rigid structures; but not so rigid that they can’t bend a little. However, if the force is too great, the bone will develop a fracture and then break. That force determines how bad the fracture is, from a hairline crack to shattering the bone.

Bones can be broken in several different ways. Some of the types of hand fractures that can occur include:

  • Comminuted fractures occur when the bone is shattered into three or more pieces under the skin
  • Compound fractures are bones that are so broken they stick out of the skin
  • Greenstick fractures have a partial break on one side of the bone, which can occur because the rest of the bone can bend to withstand the pressure
  • Impacted fractures occur when one bone is broken but it pushes into another bone
  • Intra articular fractures of bones of the hand occur when the break extends into the surface of a joint
  • Longitudinal fractures run the entire length of the particular bone impacted
  • Pathological fractures occur when the bones are weakened by an underlying condition that results in the fracture, like osteoporosis
  • Spiral fractures indicate at least one part of the bone has been twisted
  • Stable fractures are when the two broken parts of the bones line up and are barely out of place
  • Stress fractures are common in athletes whose repeated pressure on their bones cause it to simply give way

You can also have a fracture dislocation when the hand is broken but a joint is also dislocated.

What Causes a Hand Fracture

The hand can be fractured in so many ways. For instance, the first thing you do when you start to fall is instinctively to put your hand out to mitigate the impact. Many fractures can occur this way. If you work with your hands in construction, landscaping, or another trade, you may regularly subject your hands to harsh physical conditions that could injure them. 

Interestingly, children are often vulnerable to fractures, however, their bones are slightly more giving than older adults, whose bones become weaker and more brittle as they age. People with illness can be more vulnerable to a bone fracture, as are athletes that frequently subject their bones, muscles, and joints to the rigors of their sport.

The statistics tell us that 6.3 million bodily fractures occur each year in the U.S. That means, for every 100 people, 2.4 will experience some sort of fracture to a bone this year. Wrist and hand fractures are common; for example, the most common type of fracture in people before age 75 is a wrist fracture. According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, the most common type of hand fracture is a break in the fifth metacarpal, which is the bone in the palm of the hand that connects to the little finger. They call this type of break a “boxer’s fracture,” because it most commonly occurs by making a fist and punching a hard object.

What are the Symptoms of a Hand Fracture?

It’s very important to treat a hand fracture quickly, otherwise, the bone may start to heal incorrectly and out of alignment. Getting treatment quickly will help lessen any stiffness or recurring pain. How will you know if you’ve fractured your hand and need treatment? The symptoms of a hand fracture include:

  • Bruising and swelling of any part of the hand
  • Deformity in the joint, such as a finger that is crooked
  • Numbness, stiffness, or the inability to move the hand, fingers, wrist, and thumb
  • Pain, which can be severe, particularly when you’re squeezing or gripping something

If you have any of these symptoms, it’s important to seek treatment right away. If you delay, the body will naturally try to heal itself. This could cause a decreased range of motion, arthritis, permanent disfigurement, or other painful conditions that impact your ability to use your hands later on.

How is a Hand Fracture Treated?

Your orthopaedic hand specialist will examine your hand and give an initial diagnosis. He or she will ask you how you received the injury. Typically, the doctor confirms the diagnosis with an X-ray or perhaps a CT-scan or MRI to see the underlying bones and tissue. Healing bone is a natural process, so the doctor will focus on making sure to set and immobilize the bone to help it heal and to restore full function to the hand. The bone must be realigned, a process called “reducing the fracture,” in order for it to begin to heal. Generally, the patient is under anesthetic when this process occurs. At times the fracture may be unstable and the bone requires metal plates and screws or intramedullary nails, wires, or even external fixators to help hold the bone in place as it heals.  

After the bone is placed in the proper position, the patient may receive a hard cast or a functional brace to ensure that it does not move. Usually, the bone is immobilized anywhere from four to eight weeks when the bone heals. A callus of new bone will form around the fracture to knit the bone back together. Your age and overall health affect how long this process lasts. Your doctor may order physical therapy to help you regain strength and restore mobility once the fracture site is stable.

What’s the Difference Between a Hand Fracture and a Hand Sprain?

It’s hard for the average person without medical training to know if that hand pain is from a sprain or a fracture. While a fracture is a break in the bone, a sprain is a ligament that’s been torn or stretched. This is hard to determine by a layperson because there are so many small bones, joints, ligaments, and tendons within the hand that are injury-susceptible.

This is why, if you’ve injured your hand, you should head to an orthopaedic specialist for help. The experienced team at Orlando Orthopaedic Center can diagnose and treat your hand injury and help you get back to normal activities as quickly as possible.