Hand fractures

When any of the hand’s long bones (metacarpals) or short bones (phalanges) are broken, it is called a hand fracture. This injury is the most common bone fracture. A hand fracture is an injury associated with athletes who participate in contact sports (including soccer, rugby and football) and winter sports (snowboarding and skiing). The hand is very complex; its 19 small and large bones must retain their alignment for your hand to work correctly, so that you are able to do things such as button your shirt or grab a pencil.

Most hand injuries are preventable. It is very important to seek immediate medical intervention and care if you think you have suffered a hand fracture. 

Anatomy of the hand

The hand, which operates as a single body, is actually composed of many parts:

  • Metacarpals – these five long bones make up the palm
  • Phalanges – these 14 small bones make up the thumb and fingers; the thumb is made of two phalanges, and the other fingers are each made of three

Causes

A hand fracture is generally the result of a fall or a blow to the hand. The following are some causes of hand fractures:

  • Falling on an outstretched hand – When you catch yourself with one hand after a fall, you are putting a lot of stress on your metacarpal bones. If it is a hard fall, or if your bones are weakened (for example, by osteoporosis), you are vulnerable to hand fractures.
  • A blow to the hand – If you receive a blow to your hand, you may sustain a fracture. If the fingers are not balled up, they are quite vulnerable to fracture.
  • Twisting the hand – If your hand is twisted, as can happen in sports, the bones of your hands can be overstressed and fracture.    

Symptoms

Different types of hand fractures have somewhat different symptoms, since they occur in different locations, but they are generalizable. If you sustain a hand fracture, your hand will hurt, bruise, swell and weaken. Additionally, your range of motion will be reduced, and you will likely not be able to grab things. The following are common hand fracture symptoms:

  • Pain
  • Bruising
  • Swelling
  • Weakening
  • Reduced range of motion
  • The inability to grab

The symptoms of hand fracture may be mistaken for the symptoms of other medical conditions (broken wrist, sprained hand, etc.). Make sure you consult a doctor to determine if you have a hand fracture, and get the appropriate treatment. 

Types

Hand fractures can be divided into two main types:

  • Broken metacarpal(s) – When you catch yourself as you are falling, it is frequently your palm that bears the brunt of the blow. This type of fall can result in broken metacarpal(s).
  • Broken phalange(s) – The fingers, formed by the phalanges, are not very strong on their own. They can be crushed by an object or cracked by overextension.

The multidisciplinary team of trauma and fracture experts at Northwell Health Orthopaedic Institute treats hand fractures as well as a broad range of conditions that affect the bones.

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