Hammer Thumb: Causes, Types, Diagnosis, Symptoms and Treatments

The hammer thumb is a term used to describe the clubbing of the thumbs. The hammer thumb has numerous names such as the stubby thumb, cleft thumb, and clubbed thumb. The hammer thumb, cleft thumb, clubbed thumb and stubby thumb are terms coined due to the appearance of the thumb when it is affected by the condition.

Gipsy fortune tellers also coined other terms for this condition such as murderer’s thumb and potter’s thumb. The real medical term for this condition though is Brachydactyly type D.

This is a condition where a thumb or a pair of thumbs is/are disproportionately shorter compared to other fingers or toes in the hands and feet. The affected thumb will have a noticeably round body accompanied by a wide nail bed. It is also shorter than normal size thumbs.

This condition is frowned upon since it makes the finger look less appealing according to the opinions of many. The aesthetics of the finger is, of course, more important to women than men. So if you are a man, you pretty much have nothing to worry about when it comes to looks.

This condition is also not painful and cannot in any way affect your health. Brachydactyly is also known as the hammer thumb, stubby thumb, cleft thumb, or clubbed thumb occurs in several forms.

Types of Brachydactyly:

hammer thumb
Hammer thumb
Image source: Wikipedia

The various types that exist are grouped according to the bones and digits affected.

Type A Brachydactyly:

The type A Brachydactyly is the shortening of the middle phalanges in the finger. Phalanges are the bones that are part of the fingers of the hand and the toes of the foot. Type A Brachydactyly can be categorized even more according to various finger types.

Type A1 Brachydactyly:

Here, the middle phalanges in all the fingers are shorter than normal, giving the finger a stubby look.

Type A2 Brachydactyly :

In this case, only the index finger is shortened. Here, the rest of the fingers are spared from deformity though sometimes even the little finger could be shorter than normal.

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Type A3 Brachydactyly:

In this case, only the little finger is shorter than normal. This can come as a great relief for those who are overly conscious of their looks since only one finger is affected. It is easier to mask one finger in an attempt to avoid embarrassment as opposed to masking several.

Type B Brachydactyly:

This condition is characterized by premature development or the absence of the outermost bones of the fingers and toes. This condition is probably a fingernail enthusiast’s worst nightmare since the fingernails here are absent.

Similar conditions are replicated in the patient’s toes. The thumb bones, on the other hand, are pretty much intact, allowing the patient to perform their normal activities such as typing, driving, writing, and holding objects. The thumb bones can, however, appear to be flat or split.

Type C Brachydactyly:

This is a condition characterized by the shortening of certain bones in the index, middle and little fingers of the hand and the toes of the feet. The ring finger remains normal, eliminating any excuse for not to having your marriage ring on at all times.

Other abnormalities in this condition may include extra bones in the index and middle fingers also known as hypersegmentation.

Treatment for this ailment depends on its severity. If the condition hampers the normal functioning of the hand; preventing the patient from performing routine actions such as driving, writing, typing, and holding things, then physical therapy should be pursued.

However, if the case is more severe, plastic surgery can be done to rectify the condition. Thankfully, type C Brachydactyly is a very rare condition though.

Type D Brachydactyly:

Type D Brachydactyly does not affect the fingers; it only affects the thumbs. This is the most common of all since it affects the most number of people in a population. It also works very well for beauty enthusiasts who get to have their “perfect” fingers intact.

In this condition, the end bones of the thumbs are usually shorter than normal; it does not affect the fingers though.

Type E Brachydactyly:

The type E Brachydactyly is very rare just like the type C Brachydactyly unless the condition is accompanied by a second disorder. This condition is characterized by shorter metacarpals and metatarsals.

Metacarpals are long bones in the hand that are connected to the carpals, otherwise known as wrist bones and then to the phalanges otherwise known as finger bones.

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Metatarsals are a group of 5 bones in a person’s foot located amidst the tarsal bones of the hind and middle of the foot and the phalanges of the toes. Shortened metacarpals and metatarsals can only mean shortened hands and feet.

Before delving into the causes and symptoms of this condition, let us examine how the condition is diagnosed.

Diagnosis of a Hammer Thumb:

Physical Examination:

A health provider can diagnose this condition by carefully examining the patient’s hands and feet. The finger’s flat look and short build will easily give it away.

Hand or Foot  X-rays:

X-rays in the hands or feet can sometimes be the only way to diagnose the condition if it occurs mildly. An X-ray is useful since it will reveal which bones are shortened.

Full Body X-ray:

A full-body X-ray that captures the whole skeletal structure can help tell whether there is a syndrome. A syndrome is diagnosed when there happen to be numerous other abnormal bones.

Causes of a Hammer Thumb:

Genetic Trait:

This condition is largely genetic, meaning it can be inherited and also passed down from one generation to the next. The gene that carries this trait is known as dominant, and thus this condition is considered a dominant trait.

This means that this condition is likely to be well pronounced in the patient’s family. So if you encounter anyone with the hammer thumb, it is likely that their parents or even siblings have the same condition.

Physical Trauma:

A hammer thumb may be occasioned by an injury such as an awkward fall, an automobile accident or a blunt force blow to the thumb. If the hammer thumb occurs due to physical trauma, then pain may be experienced for a few weeks. Excessive swelling may also be observed.

Genetic Disorder and Trauma:

A hammer thumb can also be caused by both a genetic disorder and physical trauma. If a patient had mild Brachydactyly that didn’t show on the finger so much, a physical injury may exacerbate the condition and make the deformity more pronounced in either the hand or foot.

Now that we know the types of hammer thumbs that exist, how they are diagnosed, and causes of the hammer thumb. Let us look at ways to remedy or treat the condition.

Treatment for a Hammer Thumb:

In most cases, Brachydactyly has no specific treatment. This is because there is no need to treat it since; it does not cause any bodily harm to the person carrying the trait. The condition is also not contagious. Thus it cannot spread to other people that come in contact with a person who has it.

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The condition does not also spread to other bones in the carrier’s body; this eliminates any need for worry.  There are ladies who will obsess about the “ugly” look of their finger and will want it corrected. Anyone who is that finger conscious should not look for a home or synthetic remedy since none exist.

There is no special pill or injection that will make your finger look like the others a few hours after taking them. The only option on the table is cosmetic surgery. Cosmetic surgery may be quite costly, but to some, the price of beauty cannot be negotiated.

In cases of physical trauma, the normal functioning of the finger may be curtailed, making it difficult to type, grip objects, write or even drive. In such cases, physical therapy is required to get the fingers functioning well again.

What Are the Effects or Symptoms of Brachydactyly:

Self-consciousness:

Though most people living with the condition get to live normal lives free of pain and shame, there are those who hate the look of their fingers and toes and would go to any lengths to have the condition rectified.

The absence of home remedies and synthetic drugs will not deter them from their quest for a change. Such individuals either pursue physical therapy or in extreme cases, plastic surgery to repair the bones and ligaments.

Bone Deformities:

Normal Brachydactyly does not affect the health of the patient and definitely cannot hinder the person from living a normal life. However, if the Brachydactyly is connected to another syndrome, the normal functioning of the toes and fingers may be affected.

In such cases, it would be brainy to pursue physical therapy or even surgery to regain the normal functioning of your toes and fingers.

References:
  1. https://www.healthline.com/health/brachydactyly
  2. https://helix.northwestern.edu/blog/2011/11/curious-case-stubby-thumb
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2441618/
  4. https://rarediseases.info.nih.gov/diseases/986/brachydactyly-type-c

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