How to Treat a Broken Hand

Splinted Hand
Photo © Rod Brouhard

Each hand (not counting the wrist) has 19 bones. I'd call that a target rich environment: a lot of potential for fractures. Broken hands are painful, but not life-threatening. If the break is bad enough, there could be a loss of function or even a loss of part or all of the hand. So, a serious injury to the hand isn't going to kill you, but you could lose the hand.

The symptoms of a broken hand include:

  • Pain/tenderness
  • Swelling
  • Discoloration
  • Deformity
  • Inability to move (not required for a break — just because a hand can move doesn't mean it's not broken)

Other broken bones require different specific treatments, depending on what's broken.


  1. Stay Safe! You might be amazed how many people, when trying to come to the rescue of an injured comrade, get hurt in exactly the same way. Whatever broke your buddy's hand (or your left hand) could break yours (or the other one).
  2. If the fingers of the injured hand are cold or blue, call 911 immediately.
  3. Do NOT straighten the hand if it is deformed — keep it in the position found.
  4. Stabilize the hand in the position of function (see photo) with the fingers curled loosely around a soft object like roller gauze. Use padding to keep it immobile.
  5. Put ice on the injury. Never put the ice directly on the skin — make an ice pack. After holding ice on the hand for about 20 minutes, take it off for 20 minutes.
  6. Anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen, aspirin, or naproxen will help with pain. To decrease the risk of Reye's Syndrome, do not give aspirin to children under 19.
  7. Elevate the hand above the level of the heart to reduce swelling.
  8. If 911 was not called, seek medical assistance for additional pain relief and further evaluation of the injured hand. The use of an ambulance is probably not necessary, but ambulances in many areas are capable of providing additional pain relief.


    • A little water in the ice pack will help it conform to the shape of the injury.