Open a PDF version to print this topic

HealthInfo Waitaha Canterbury

Broken hand bones

Kōiwi tāwhatiwhati o te ringa

The long bones in your hands are called your metacarpals. A break (fracture) in one of these is relatively common.

Your metacarpal bones form joints with the small bones in your wrist (carpal bones) and the small bones of your fingers and thumb (phalanges). If something hits your hand or your hand hits something, this stresses your metacarpal bones. If the stress is too great, one or more of them may break.

Often a broken hand bone happens with other hand and wrist injuries such as a sprained or dislocated joint, broken fingers or a broken wrist.

Your metacarpals can break in different places, such as the head, neck, shaft or base. Some breaks are more serious than others, depending on how many pieces the bone breaks into, whether the break involves a joint and whether or not the broken ends are still together.

Diagnosing a broken hand

If your hand is swollen, tender or painful, or deformed or out-of-shape, you may have broken it.

Also:

If you think you may have broken a bone in your hand, it's important to see a health professional.

Your doctor or hand therapist will examine your hand and ask questions about what happened. You'll also have an X-ray to show which bone is broken and how it's broken.

Treating a broken hand

Treating a broken hand depends on what the break looks like. Most breaks are simple, with the ends still together, so these are treated with a splint or cast, but no surgery. This is often called non-operative management.

Self-care for a broken hand

There are several things you can do yourself to help your hand heal, whether or not you're having surgery.

Getting help for a broken hand

If the broken ends of the bone aren't aligned, your doctor may need to move them back into place. This doesn't usually need surgery, but you'll probably receive a local anaesthetic injection to numb the area, or possibly laughing gas (nitrous oxide).

You'll have a splint or cast to stop the bones in your hand from moving. The cast or splint will probably extend from below your knuckles down past your wrist, almost to your elbow. This makes sure the bones stay in place. You can read about how to care for your cast, so it continues to protect your hand.

You'll have to wear the cast or splint for four to six weeks. You'll probably be able to start doing some gentle hand exercises after three weeks.

When the cast comes off, the finger above the bone you broke may be slightly shorter than before. This shouldn't affect your ability to use your hand and fingers.

You'll also need to take special care of your hand for a while after your cast comes off, including doing some strengthening exercises.

On the next page: Surgery for a broken hand

Written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Last reviewed June 2022.

Sources

See also:

ACC help after an injury

Broken bones first aid

Living with an injury

Page reference: 347801

Review key: HIWAH-240323