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How to Splint a Broken Hand

Instructor: Alyssa Campbell

Alyssa is an active RN and teaches Nursing and Leadership university courses. She also has a Doctorate in Nursing Practice and a Master's in Business Administration.

Broken hands should be splinted whenever possible while waiting for professional medical care. Read this lesson to learn when a splint should be applied and general considerations when applying one.

An Unexpected Injury

A young landscaper, Craig, has joined a new yard work crew for the summer. He enjoys the physical labor that his job brings and the fact that it allows him to spend most of his time outside. As the group prepares for the day on a large project, supplies are loaded into the truck.

The job that Craig is on will require his crew to put down enormous amounts of mulch, a heavy landscaping material used to cover and beautify the ground. He moves to the back of the truck to prepare to unload the day's materials and calls one of his colleagues over to help. The pair of men begin to unload the mulch, and before they can even realize it, a heavy metal gardening tool falls on top of Craig's hand.

Getting Help

Craig cries out in pain as his boss, Bob, runs to his side. He suspects Craig broke his hand based on the following symptoms:

  • Swelling
  • Ecchymosis, or bruising
  • Pain

Because the hand is made of many complex and small bones, immediate action is necessary to preserve its function. Craig's boss pulls out the first-aid kit to apply a splint before taking him to the hospital. The use of this device is an appropriate immediate response and will help protect the hand from further injury.

Applying the Splint

To apply the splint, Bob uses the following sequence.

Clear the Injury

Quickly removing debris, dirt, clothing, and even jewelry is a key step in preparing the hand for splinting. This will allow for safe application of the splint without risk of cutting off circulation or causing further harm. It also enables professional medical providers to assess the injury more quickly.

Apply a Cold Compress

A cold compress, like an ice pack, should be immediately applied to the hand. This action will reduce swelling and enable the splint to fit more comfortably and protect the hand better. Cold compresses will also help to manage pain caused by the injury.

Place the Splint

Craig is fortunate that his boss carries a first-aid kit equipped with standard splinting material. A thin but durable plastic strip is placed underneath his lower arm. The strip should stretch out to his fingers. Next, a soft cloth or a towel is wrapped around the arm and hand along with the splint. These materials are then fixed together with tape or string.

Ensuring the length of the splint extends from the fingers to the lower arm is important because it serves to immobilize the wrist joint, preventing the hand from moving and causing further injury. If generic splints are unavailable, other material like thick towels or a rolled-up newspaper may be suitable for a temporary splint. String may also be used in lieu of tape to secure the immobilizing material around the injured area.

Wear a Sling

A person wearing a sling.
A person wearing a sling.

A sling, or a piece of fabric used to hold the arm and hand up, should be worn on the injured extremity. This device will decrease swelling and pain to the hand. The sling also acts as a form of protection when the individual is walking and active.

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