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"How can I tell if my thumb is broken or just sprained?"

ZocdocAnswersHow can I tell if my thumb is broken or just sprained?

Question

My thumb got bent wayyyy back and now it is swollen and hurts. The doctor said the x-ray didn't show anything but it could miss a fracture and gave me a splint. What do I do differently if it is sprained or broken? Will it heal the same way either way?

Answer

I am sorry that you had this accident! The good news is that there was no obvious fracture when your doctor performed the x-ray. What your doctor probably meant here is that, typically when you go to the emergency room or an urgent care center for an injury like this, the x-ray is initially interpreted by the doctor who is providing the treatment. If this doctor does not see any obvious fracture, then this generally rules out a serious injury that requires immediate treatment. However, this doctor may occasionally miss a very small fracture of a bone, but this might be picked up a day or two later when the x-ray is reviewed again formally by a radiologist, who is a specialist in reading x-rays. The way most emergency rooms operate is that they will call you back if the radiologist picks up a small fracture. Typically, missing these minor fractures does not result in any change in the immediate treatment plan, although generally if a small fracture is picked up you will be given an appointment to follow up with an orthopedic specialists in a few days or weeks. Please see your primary care doctor to discuss appropriate follow-up. Good luck!

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