What to Look For in a Thumb Brace

thumb brace

What’s a thumb brace for?

Many people wear a brace or wrist splint to stop hand pain. Some of these are specialized, and called a thumb brace. A thumb brace is essentially a hand brace that concentrates added support to the injured thumb. It can be in the form of a brace that restricts all of the fingers or one that restricts only the thumb using a spica (called a “thumb spica“). Their main purpose is to keep the thumb immobilized while it heals from surgery, injury or disease. By far, the most common reason to wear a thumb brace is either for a thumb sprain or for De Quervain’s tenosynovitis.

Other conditions that might require a thumb brace are:

  • Post-operative
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Thumb fracture
  • Wrist tendonitis
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome
  • Gamekeeper’s Thumb
  • Skier’s thumb

The thumb spica

A thumb spica brace has a “spica”. This is a rigid or semi-rigid extension of the hand brace that specifically supports the thumb. It is an “orthosis” meaning it was designed to keep the thumb stable and in one position. Some braces incorporate a thumb spica specifically for post-surgical rehabilitation or as a substitute for a hand cast. They may include a simple Velcro-locked spica support or a lace-up spica. Several thumb spicas types are moldable to conform to the bend in a person’s thumb, or as the doctor requires for maximum healing. Newer thumb spica hand braces have a moldable plastic spine. You can mold and adjust it with a little heat into the shape you need.

thumb spica

Thumb brace for sprains

You can sprain a thumb if you bend it too far, beyond its normal range of motion. Too much bending will disrupt the ligaments that support the thumb. Beyond their physical limits, ligaments can develop micro-tears. This causes inflammation and swelling – and of course, severe pain. The most common injuries occur in association with contact sports like football and basketball. The most severe cases require surgery to join completely ripped ligaments in the thumb. Whether you need a thumb brace for post-surgical support or for support after a more minor injury (like a partial tear), the thumb spica hand brace will help keep the thumb from moving excessively. Doing so allows it to heal better in the 4-6 weeks that most thumb ligaments take to heal.

Thumb brace for De Quervain’s tenosynovitis

With simple diagnoses now available, it is common today for doctors to identify the condition known as De Quervain’s tenosynovitis. This is essentially tendinitis at the base of the thumb. It occurs in one of several ways, such as arthritis, trauma to the thumb, or repetitively and forcefully gripping and releasing objects. If you have this condition, moving your thumb while grasping or making a fist will cause pain. The Finkelstein test can determine this: bend your thumb across the palm, then close your fingers over the thumb. Next, bend your wrist toward your little finger. This will cause pain in your thumb if you have de Quervain’s tenosynovitis.

The most severe cases of De Quervain’s tenosynovitis require surgery. However, in the majority of instances the condition is treatable with cortisone injections and bracing. A thumb spica hand brace will help rest the thumb rest while the other fingers can work, if only in a limited way. For maximum benefit you wear the wrist brace with spica day and night, generally for 4-6 weeks.

Summary:

A thumb brace is a special type of wrist splint or brace that immobilizes your thumb. A metal spine (or spica) holds the thumb in a desired position. A thumb brace is usually used for De Quervain’s tenosynovitis or a sprained thumb.

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About 15 years ago my wife was waking up during the wee hours screaming from carpal tunnel pain.
This isn’t an exaggerating. She’d literally scream from the pain shooting up through her wrist and into her shoulder. The poor thing still shudders when she thinks about it.

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