How to Know if Your Thumb, Wrist, Finger, or Ankle is Sprained

During this time of challenging coronavirus “social distancing” we are all trying to limit unnecessary trips out of the house. But, accidents can still happen at home – and then patients’ are then faced with the decision of whether their injury needs medical care – or can be treated at home.

During the COVID-19 quarantine we have received calls from patients wondering whether they are suffering from “just a sprain” or a broken bone (fracture) – and whether they should come into the office.

A sprain is the stretching (or in severe cases, the tearing) of ligaments — which are the fibrous tissues that connect two bones in a joint – such as the finger or wrist.  Typically, milder sprains can be treated at home with rest, ice, compression and elevation. Severe sprains may require surgery if the ligaments are torn rather than just stretched.

However, if a bone is indeed broken – in the hand, finger, arm, wrist, or anywhere on the body – obtaining medical treatment is crucial. Having the broken bone “set” by a doctor ensures that the bone heals properly – and that the patient is not permanently left with pain or deformity.

In this article renowned hand surgeon Dr. Rehman discusses how to identify a sprain.

How to Know if You have a Sprained Finger, Wrist, Ankle or Thumb

Hearing or feeling a “pop” in the injured joint at the time of the accident is one way to know if you are experiencing a sprain. A broken bone, on the other hand, is often accompanied by a cracking, crunching or snapping sound.

Like broken bones, sprains can be characterized by: pain, swelling, and bruising. One of the hallmarks of a sprain is a limited ability to move the affected joint – but without the appearance of deformity, displacement of being “out of alignment”.

The cause of the injury may also give some insight into whether an injury is a sprain or a broken bone. Twisting an ankle while walking on an uneven surface or landing awkwardly during running or activity is a likely cause of a sprained ankle. Pivoting during a sports or exercise –such as playing basketball – can cause a sprained knee. And overextension of a joint – for example during golf or tennis – can result in a sprained thumb.

However, impact, such as landing on an outstretched hand during a fall can cause either a sprain or a broken bone.

And, remember, while children have strong ligaments their bones are still growing – with soft “growth plates” -– so a child is more likely to suffer a broken bone than a sprain.

When to Contact a Doctor for a Sprained Thumb, Wrist, Finger, or Ankle

You should see a doctor if you have injured a joint, and have one or more of the following symptoms:

  • You can’t move the affected joint
  • You can’t put weight on the affected joint
  • You have pain directly over the bones of an injured joint
  • You have numbness anywhere in injured area
  • Any time the limb appears unnaturally bent or “out of alignment”
  • You heard a cracking, crunching or “snap” sound at the time of injury
  • You can’t turn your arm from back and forth from palm up to palm down

Other signs and symptoms indicating you should see a doctor for a sprain include any severe pain or swelling.

Treating a Sprained Ankle, Wrist, Thumb or Finger at Home

If there is any possibility that the injury is a broken bone, Dr. Rehman can schedule an immediate, safe and socially-distanced appointment for an X-rays to diagnose or rule out a fracture or other bone injury.

However, if Dr. Rehman determines the problem to be a sprain she will typically prescribe home self-care using the R.I.C.E. approach — rest, ice, compression, and elevation.

Over-the-counter pain medications such as Tylenol (acetaminophen ) and Ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others) may also be helpful. However, patients experiencing any symptoms of Covid-19 virus (coronavirus) are warned NOT to consume any products containing Ibuprofen.

Coronavirus Hand Doctor Video Appointments

If you are suffering from an injury or pain in your fingers, wrist, elbow or arm – and you think you may have experienced a broken bone or a sprain – contact board certified Oakland County hand surgeon Doctor Rehman for a comprehensive evaluation and consultation.

In many cases she can provide an initial video consultation to assess your injury, so that you do not have to leave your home during coronavirus (Covid-19) isolation. And, in cases where in-person examination is required, she will schedule a safe and socially-distanced examination in her Bloomfield Hills or Shelby Twp. office.

It is important to remember that while a sprain can often be treated at home, delays in the diagnosis and treatment of a broken arm, finger, wrist, toe or foot can lead to poor healing, deformity and a lifetime of pain and/or limited mobility. So it is important to contact Dr. Rehman right away.

Of course, after hours or for any emergency medical condition, including excessive bleeding or swelling, call 911 or your local Urgent Care immediately.

Coronavirus Hand Doctor Video Appointments: