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What Causes a Metacarpal Fracture?

woman suffering from the symptoms of a metacarpal fractureA metacarpal fracture is a break—technically known as a fracture—in one or more of the long tubular bones of the palm of the hand, called the metacarpal bones. The classic metacarpal fracture happens in the fifth metacarpal (associated with the pinky finger) in the hands of boxers or other pugilistic athletes. However, you don’t have to be an MMA fighter or a street brawler to sustain a metacarpal fracture.

In this blog, the orthopedic surgeons at Mirza Orthopedics on Long Island will explain the causes and treatments of a metacarpal fracture.

What is a metacarpal fracture?

Metacarpal fractures are surprisingly common, and are exactly what they sound like: a break in one of the hand bones. The palm of the hand consists primarily of five long bones known as the metacarpals. These bones articulate with the bones of the fingers—called the phalanges—and with the small bones of the wrist to form joints.

It takes a considerable amount of force, but when the metacarpal bones are put under more stress than what they can withstand—such as during a punch or a direct impact to the hand—a break in one or more of them can be the result. It takes a great deal of force to fracture a metacarpal, and this type of injury is often seen in conjunction with others such as joint sprains or dislocations, or even other fractures in the hand or in the wrist.

Like other fractures, the severity of a metacarpal break can vary, from a simple un-displaced fracture to a comminuted one in which the bone is fragmented into many pieces. There are several other types of metacarpal fractures including greenstick fractures, compound fractures, and displaced fractures, and the bone may be broken in any location along its length.

What are the symptoms of a metacarpal fracture?

When you suffer a metacarpal fracture, you typically have sudden, intense pain when the injury actually happens. You may feel it in any part of your hand—front, back, or sides—and it may radiate down into your fingers or up into your wrist. However, in some cases the intense pain quickly fades to a dull ache that’s worst at night or first thing in the morning. You may also have swelling and bruising. Your hand may be weak, and the area where the bone is broken will probably be painful to the touch.

Hand pain may become worse when you perform certain movements involving your wrist and fingers, such as opening and closing your hand or gripping things. Anything that requires movement of your hand, such as lifting or carrying, may hurt, and some people also experience numbness or a “pins and needles” feeling in their hands or fingers. In severe fractures in which the bone is displaced, your hand may be obviously misshapen.

What are the causes of metacarpal fracture?

A metacarpal fracture happens when your hand hits something—or is hit by something—with enough force to break a metacarpal bone. This most commonly happens during a punch with a closed fist—the knuckles, which in reality are the ends of the metacarpal bones, directly and forcefully contact another object. This force is transmitted through the ends of the bones along their length, and if the force is great enough the bone(s) will fracture. Crush injuries, such as something heavy falling onto the hand or someone stepping directly on an athlete’s hand, can also cause a metacarpal fracture.

What are the treatments for metacarpal fracture?

Initially, most metacarpal fractures are treated by simply splinting the injured hand. Most stable metacarpal fractures heal successfully without surgery, and splinting may be all that is needed. However, this type of fracture is often unstable. In this case, the bones are likely to slide out of alignment, which can lead to loss of function in the affected hand and may leave the hand misshapen. Unstable fractures require some type of fixation, achieved through surgery.

Where can I find the best treatment for metacarpal fracture on Long Island?

At Mirza Orthopedics, we diagnose and treat all types of hand fractures, including metacarpal fractures, in patients of all ages. Fortunately, hand surgery has seen some major advances in recent years, and the method we use is minimally invasive. It’s done in an outpatient setting using local anesthesia–and there is no clumsy cast. With early rehab, and you can expect a quick return to both work and daily activities.

If you’ve suffered a metacarpal fracture, schedule an appointment with the experienced hand specialists at Mirza Orthopedics and learn more about your treatment options.

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