Metacarpal Fracture: a Common Injury in Basketball

A metacarpal fracture is one of the most common hand injuries, especially when playing sport. Today, we'll look at how it's treated.
Metacarpal Fracture: a Common Injury in Basketball

Last update: 03 March, 2021

A metacarpal fracture can be painful and severely debilitating in your daily life. It’s fairly common in certain sports, particularly those in which you use your hands a lot.

Today, we’ll look at what this injury is, how it’s caused, and what you can do to ensure a speedy recovery.

What is the metacarpus?

The metacarpus is the name given to the five bones between the wrist and fingers. Basically, there’s one bone for each finger in the palm of your hand, and you can find them easily by touching your hand.

Their job is to provide stability and transmit the force required to move each finger individually. You’d have a much more restricted range of movement if you didn’t have them.

Like the phalanges (the bones in your fingers), these bones are long and rather thin. Furthermore, they’re only protected by a relatively thin layer of tissues. This means that they’re quite susceptible to injury, particularly if you use your hands a lot.

Metacarpal fracture

The term ‘metacarpal fracture’ refers to a break in any of those five bones. This most commonly happens during sport. For example, in basketball, these bones are used constantly to dribble the ball, receive passes, or intercept passes.

A group of basketball players in a game.

The biggest risk is if you fall down or receive a direct hit to the hand. For example, if you fall over, particularly on a hard surface, you’ll more than likely put out your hands to cushion your fall. But then there’s also the possibility that another player could fall on top of you.

And if that weren’t enough, there’s always the chance that a player could strike your metacarpus when trying to steal the ball from you.

Boxing is another sport where this injury is common. The reason for the risk here is obvious. When boxing, you’re constantly submitting these bones to intense forces, and if you don’t take the necessary precautions and use good techniques, then you’ll be at risk of injuring yourself.

Outside of sports, the most common ways of suffering a metacarpal fracture are falls and car accidents. In each case, you’re very likely to instinctively use your hand to cushion the blow of an impact. However, the bones in the hand and wrist absorb the full impact and any one of them can fracture as a result.

How is a metacarpal fracture treated?

If you’ve taken a blow to the hand and it hurts a lot, you should go straight to the doctor for a diagnosis. If your doctor confirms a metacarpal fracture, you’ll need treatment and rehabilitation.

It’ll take about six weeks for the bone to heal, although this could be longer if the fracture is more severe. In very serious cases, you may even need surgery.

To begin with, you may need to wear a splint to keep your fingers in place. How long you have to wait before you can start exercising your fingers will depend on how serious the fracture is. After a while, you’ll be able to remove the splint to move your fingers more.

During this time, you’ll also have to try to reduce any inflammation by first applying cold and then heat. You’ll also need to keep your hand raised and rested.

Once the fracture has healed and you no longer need to wear a splint, you’ll need to spend some time with a physiotherapist. As these bones are easily accessible, there’s a range of exercises you can do to recover mobility.

A woman being treated for a metacarpal fracture.

You may be told to use physical techniques such as magnet or heat therapy, stretches, or other specific exercises. A good professional will tailor your sessions to suit the severity of your injury.

With proper rehabilitation, you should be able to make a full recovery without any relapses.

Be careful

As you can see, metacarpal fractures are normally caused by direct trauma. As a result, if you take part in sports where you’re likely to fall over, it’s important to learn how to fall properly. And if you practice boxing, you should make sure that you develop a good technique and use bandages or wraps correctly.

But if you do suffer from a metacarpal fracture, recovery should be straightforward but gradual. If you notice any numbness, increased pain, or stiffness, go straight to your doctor. Provided there are no complications, you should be back to normal after a couple of months.

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