Playing with our kids, catching a football, or just waving hello: we use our hands a lot more often than we realize. As such, hand injuries are a common occurrence, and proper care for a broken hand is necessary to help prevent deformities and loss of function. The first step in caring for a broken hand is to see a doctor immediately after the injury. While some breaks may heal on their own, the bones will likely not heal correctly, which can affect the hand’s abilities like feeling, dexterity, and performing precise movements. Early intervention will also minimize pain and stiffness and get you back to doing the activities you love.
Caring for A Broken Hand: Next Steps After Your Doctor Visit
You’ve been to the doctor and had the evaluation and x-ray needed to diagnose your hand fracture. You’ve received a treatment plan and been sent home. Now, what do you do?
First, read through the instructions your doctor has given you. Always follow your physician’s instructions regarding the care of your broken hand. A typical, non-complicated break treated with a cast or splint takes about 3 to 6 weeks to heal. During this time, it’s likely your doctor will want to see you again to take more X-rays and re-evaluate the injury to ensure it is healing correctly.
While there is no magic cure to speed up recovery time, there are some steps you can take at home to help ease the pain and aid in rehabilitation:
- Schedule treatments: If you need surgery or physical therapy and haven’t scheduled appointments yet, do so as soon as possible. Delay in treatment is a delay in getting back to your normal activities.
- Medications: If a doctor prescribed medications, make sure they’re filled and picked up as soon as possible. Depending on the severity of your broken hand, you could be prescribed anything from over-the-counter pain relievers to prescription opioid medication. Take medications exactly as prescribed.
- Wiggle your (uninjured) fingers. The movement will help reduce pain and stiffness.
- Ice Your Hand: place a cold pack on your hand for 10-20 minutes at a time for about three days. Always place a towel between yourself and the ice pack, and never remove your split or bandages. Make sure to keep the cast dry.
- Prop up your hand on a pillow when lying down or sitting. Do this for the first few days after the injury. Keeping your hand higher than your heart will reduce swelling.
- If you are given hand/finger exercises, do them. Not only do the exercises reduce swelling and stiffness, but they will help bring function back to your hand.
Remember, any changes to your treated hand, including additional pain, redness, or swelling, needs to be reported to your doctor as soon as possible.
How To Care for a Cast or Splint on A Broken Hand
Casts and splints are commonly used to immobilize the broken bone. Casts are hard, made of fiberglass or plaster, and can only be removed in a doctor’s office. Splints have one hard side, held onto the broken bone with bandages. Splints are easier to remove.
It’s essential to properly care for your immobilization device, which will aid in healing your broken hand. Cast and splint care tips include:
- Keep the cast or splint dry: cover the area with plastic bags, seal it with tape or rubber bands, and keep the cast above your head when showering.
- Keep the cast or splint clean: avoid dirt, sand, or other materials that could get on or in the cast.
- Don’t stick objects in your cast: definitely don’t stick anything inside to satisfy an itch (something you might have to keep an eye on if you have a child with a cast). Instead, try using a blow dryer on a low, cool setting to “itch,” or contact your doctor’s office for advice.
- Don’t cut the cast or splint: don’t try to trim the device or remove it yourself.
- Contact your doctor if your cast or splint has a crack or soft spot.
Can I Still Be Active With A Broken Hand?
You don’t have to stay sedentary with a broken hand. There are still several exercises and workouts that you can do, depending on your doctor’s instructions and your comfort level.
It is recommended that you keep your hand above your heart for the first 1-2 weeks to reduce pain and swelling. Low-intensity, lower body cardiovascular exercises would be ideal for this time.
Some examples of exercises that are safe to do with a broken hand include:
- Riding a stationary or recumbent bike
- Walking on a treadmill
- A brisk walk outside (as long as your route doesn’t challenge your balance)
- Elliptical machines
- Stair machines
All exercise should be modified for your injury and the intensity of the workout lowered. Always check with your physician before beginning any exercise routine.
When To Call A Doctor
Contact your doctor immediately if you:
- Experience excessive swelling above or below the cast.
- Feel increased numbness or tingling in the area.
- Feel burning or increased pain.
- Fingers or skin get a blue tinge or get cold.
- See a crack or soft spot in the cast, or if the cast gets wet.
- Smell a foul odor.
- See red and raw skin around the device.
A broken hand is a common hand injury seen frequently in urgent care and emergency rooms. Treatment options range from splints to hand surgery. Following your doctor’s orders is the best at-home care for a fractured hand. Take medicine as prescribed, keep the hand elevated above the heart, and do hand exercises given to you by a professional to ensure a complete and total recovery and to regain as much use as possible of the injured hand.
At MOSH, we believe everybody deserves top-quality care. So know that wherever you receive your initial treatment, the MOSH orthopedic hand surgeons and orthopedic rehabilitation team are here to get you back to doing the activities you love. When you schedule an appointment with MOSH, you can be confident you are getting the best care for your broken hand.