When you hit your thumb with a hammer, it can feel like there’s nothing you can do besides run through all the swear words you know. But even though your thumb will rightfully complain about your treatment, there are things you can do immediately.
First, make sure your thumb isn’t broken. This may require an emergency room visit, but it can also be a pretty clear situation if you’ve just nicked the end of your thumb and not caught or crushed the joint.
Next, remember how the thumb gets blood flow. There are two routes, tiny blood vessels on either side of the thumb. When you bang your thumb, blood rushes in and pools in the thumb, blocking any exit. While this allows your immune system to fight the damage, it also can increase and prolong your pain. The standard treatment for this is anti-inflammatory pills, but these won’t get to your thumb very quickly. They are taken orally, and only a tiny bit of them will eventually reach the thumb itself.
Rather than take something to tell the body to shut up, it might be easiest to get the pain to dissipate. Moving the blood out of the thumb is the fastest way to do this. Icing the thumb will push the blood away, but it ultimately opposes the need of the body to repair. So alternating icing and heat will push the blood into and out of the thumb, allowing healing while minimizing the pain.
Instead of just heating and cooling the thumb, it can be best to heat and cool the whole hand and wrist. This will at least overload the sense receptors of the hand and decrease your pain sensation. At best it will greatly speed your healing as you move inflammation out of the affected area.
Begin by deciding not to burn or freeze your thumb, as both will make things worse. Using cool water and warm water, allow both to run over your hand. Your blood flow will determine how long each should be done. As soon as you no longer notice the cool or the warmth, switch. Gradually shift up to warmer and cooler, immersing even the whole forearm in either stream. When the pain has eased, take a break. It’s usually best to end with cool water, as the body will push the heat back into the area.
The beauty of using water to help with pain, healing, and the removal of inflammation is that you can do it again in twenty minutes without overdosing on pain medication. It works well on minor burns and injuries, but also on chronic pain. When in doubt, indulge in one of our most luxurious of modern inventions: hot and cold running water.
Disclaimer: this post is not your doctor. Nothing on the internet will ever take the place of a caring physician. It’s up to you to check with someone who knows your situation about whether water therapy will work for you. Not responsible for sensations of relaxation, calmness, or pain relief.