“Just a Sprain”

I am continually astonished by the number of patients that come to see me a month or later after they thought they ‘sprained’ their finger. Their finger is painful, swollen, and doesn’t bend. It may even be deformed. These patients say things like, “I thought that if it was broken, it wouldn’t move at all”, or “I thought that if it was broken it would be just hanging there”.

The fact is that finger fractures heal in 3 weeks. After 3 weeks, any fractures that have healed in a poor position need to be surgically rebroken and fixed. This is a much more involved procedure than simply fixing a broken finger, takes longer to recover from, and while it may improve the finger, the finger may still never be as good as if it was treated quickly. If a hand specialist is seen within the first week, many fractures can be manipulated (set) into better position. This may avoid surgery, or even if surgery is required, it is less complex, often without a scar, and complications (especially stiffness) are minimized.

If you have an injury to your finger and it swells significantly, doesn’t move fully (ie. if you can’t make a fist) within a day or so, if there’s a deformity, or if there is significant pain after a day or so, then please get it evaluated by a hand surgeon. Please note that I didn’t just say a ‘doctor’. Most physicians are not experts on hand fractures and don’t always know which hand fractures are dangerous. If you make an appointment to see a generalist, you may waste precious time before you see a specialist. Even general orthopaedic surgeons and plastic surgeons often don’t have the expertise that is required to optimally treat hand fractures. See a hand surgeon with additional specialist training who knows what to do with each specific fracture, and who can perform any needed treatment in a timely fashion.

Same for sprains of the wrist. Many people fracture their wrist, but for some reason think that it’s ‘just a sprain’. If the wrist is painful, swollen, bruised and doesn’t move after a day, it’s probably broken. Find a hand surgeon who is an expert on wrist fractures so it can be treated quickly. Most wrist fractures heal in 5 weeks, so there’s not a lot of time to waste.

Many specialists see more complex problems in a certain area of the body (for me: the hand, wrist, elbow and shoulder) every month than many generalists may see in years. As this one area of the body is all that we see, specialists know all of the details and are up to date with the latest treatments. Specialty care gives you the correct diagnosis the quickest, the best treatment, and avoids unnecessary or failed procedures that can take years to undo.

If you want to gamble, then go to Vegas. Why gamble with your body?