Sprained Thumbs

Written by: Salma Abdel-Aziz, OMS-II

What Is a Sprained Thumb?

A sprained thumb is an injury to a ligament of the thumb. A ligament is a soft tissue that connects bones to help stabilize joints. The most injured ligament in the thumb is the ulnar collateral ligament. This ligament helps connect the thumb to the hand towards the index finger.

Our team at OrthoNeuro can help you accurately diagnose whether or not you have a sprained thumb due to a recent injury. Give us a call today for a diagnosis and a personalized treatment plan for you.

Sprained Thumb Symptoms

Signs of sprained thumb may include:

  • Swelling
  • Bruising
  • Tenderness
  • Weakness
  • Pain
  • Difficulty in using the thumb in everyday tasks such as writing or holding a glass

A jammed thumb may also have similar symptoms. However, most people with a jammed thumb can still use and move their thumb.

These symptoms may also be synonymous with a fractured or broken thumb, so it is important to go to a physician to determine the specific injury and whether or not it is a severe sprain.

What Causes a Thumb Sprain?

A sprained thumb is common with sports injuries or falls, especially when the thumb is bent in an awkward and extreme position.

Ligaments can withstand a small amount of stretching, but when they have overstretched, this results in a partial or complete tear of the ligament. One or more ligaments may be affected by the thumb.

“Skiers Thumb” is a common sprained thumb ligament injury amongst skiers. This occurs when skiers fall and land on their hand/pole, tearing the ulnar collateral ligament.

How to Diagnose a Thumb Sprain?

To diagnose, your provider will complete a thorough medical history. They also may:

  • Use the sprained thumb test: This test involves moving the thumb into different positions to determine how stable the joint is and can aid in determining if the ligament is partially torn or completely ruptured. This can also be called a ligament stress test.
  • Order an x-ray: This can help determine if there is an associated fracture of the thumb

Treatment for a Sprained Thumb

Immediately after injuring the thumb, follow P.R.I.C.E. – protection, rest, icing, compression, elevation, until you can see your provider. The sooner you see a provider, the better your recovery will be. Waiting too long to see a provider may result in permanent damage to the thumb. 

Non-surgical treatments include immobilizing the thumb joint with a cast, bandage, and splint until it heals. Ice packs can aid in easing pain or swelling. 

Surgical treatments may be indicated if the ligament is completely torn or if there is an associated avulsion fracture. Avulsion fractures occur when the torn ligament pulls fragments of the bone away with it. After surgery, typically, the thumb will then be cast to heal.

Remember, every patient and sprain is different. Make sure to speak with a hand surgeon to determine the best treatment option for you. 


Recovery differs from patient to patient but typically can range from 6-12 weeks until total recovery from the point of treatment. Physical therapy is usually necessary after either non-surgical or surgical treatment to re-strengthen the thumb. 

Athletes should have a pain-free full range of motion, total recovery of strength, and functional ability of the thumb before returning to their respective sport. Athletes may also wear protective splinting or taping when they return to sport, especially if the injury is severe. 

Whether returning to work or a sport, please make sure to be cleared by your provider before doing so. 


If you have recently injured your thumb and think you may have a thumb sprain, schedule an appointment with a healthcare professional at OrthoNeuro. Our physicians will provide an accurate diagnosis and a specialized treatment plan for you. Call or book an appointment online with us today!


  1. Zeigler, Terry. Sprained Thumb. Sportsmd.org. Published 2021. Accessed July 30th, 2022. https://www.sportsmd.com/sports-injuries/wrist-hand-injuries/sprained-thumb/
  2. FAQs on Sprained Thumb. Dr-henry-backe.com. Updated 2022. Accessed July 30th, 2022. https://dr-henry-backe.com/sprained-thumb/
  3. American Society for Surgery of the Hand. Sprained Thumb. Assh.org. Published 2015. Accessed July 30th, 2022. https://www.assh.org/handcare/condition/sprained-thumb
  4. The Hand Society. 5 Signs of a Thumb Sprain. Published May 17th, 2021. Accessed July 30th, 2022. https://www.assh.org/handcare/blog/5-signs-of-a-thumb-sprain

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