Orthopedics

How Long Does a Thumb Injury Like Andy Dalton’s Take to Heal?

Andy Dalton’s right thumb has been a hot topic for discussion since he fractured it making a tackle in a game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Bengals have said he does not need surgery and may be able to make a return to the field this season.

TriHealth Orthopedic and Sports Institute hand surgery specialist Andrew Markiewitz MD is not treating Dalton, but handles a variety of patients with thumb injuries. “With an injury to the thumb, it’s hard to do any grip activity so it really makes thing hard,” Dr. Markiewitz says. “To be working at a professional level and not be pin-point accurate is going to be very difficult,”

Dr. Markiewitz says less than half of patients need surgery for a fractured thumb. “The point of surgery is typically to align the thumb to such a point that it can heal in a more natural position,” Dr. Markiewitz explains. “If the body already has that happening, we don’t need to intervene.” He says about 60 percent of patients have nondisplaced fractures that don't need surgery but require casting or splinting.

Every patient is different, so every thumb fracture is treated differently. Depending on a person’s age, Dr. Markiewitz may treat the injury longer, rather than shorter. “A phalange fracture is typically immobilized for three to four weeks and then rehabilitated over the same time frame,” said Dr. Markiewitz. “A metacarpal fracture may be immobilized for about four weeks before splinting and rehabilitation.”

Dr. Markiewitz is selective when deciding if a patient needs surgery. There are several factors that need to be considered including, but not limited to age, function, occupation/demands and medical comorbidities. Treatment options vary and include cast or splint immobilization, protective wraps or reduction and casting.

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Last Updated: December 16, 2015