David West has been out since the Golden State Warriors’ January 18, 2017 game against the Oklahoma City Thunder. He was pulled from that game and it was later announced that he had a non-displaced fracture of his left thumb that would be evaluated in two weeks.
We’ve reached the midpoint of those two weeks and the Warriors have gone 2-1 without West. While Golden State beat the Houston Rockets and Orlando Magic handily, they could have used West’s toughness against the Miami Heat on Monday.
The play that knocked West out was actually quite innocuous.
It’s unclear at what point he hurt his thumb but you can see him looking down at his hand as he runs back on defense.
Lucky for us, our on-call injury expert — Dr. Elliot Yoo, a physical medicine and rehabilitation physician and pain medicine fellow at Massachusetts General Hospital — is here to shed some light on thumbs.
DISCLAIMER: The discussion below is general in nature. Golden State of Mind and Dr. Yoo are not providing any medical diagnoses and are certainly not giving you medical advice. If you’re hurt, stop reading and go to your doctor.
Jason Lee: So, first things first. What is a non-displaced thumb fracture?
Dr. Elliot Yoo: A non-displaced fracture is when a bone cracks partially or all the way through but stays well-aligned with the rest of the bone, as opposed to a displaced fracture where a bone breaks and moves out of alignment.
J.L.: What’s the typical treatment for this kind of injury?
Dr. Yoo: Treatment depends on where along the thumb a fracture occurs. Fractures near the attachment of ligaments or close to a joint — particularly those towards the base of the thumb — often require more invasive treatments, like surgery.
Doctors typically rely on a sturdy splint to immobilize the whole thumb joint. If the bones remain well-aligned, thumb fractures generally heal well.
J.L.: What about recovery time?
Dr. Yoo: Again, it can vary depending on where the fracture occurred. But, in general, for non-displaced fractures you can expect someone to be in a splint for three to six weeks. X-rays are repeated to make sure the bone remains well-positioned.
J.L.: Any basketball implications? Like difficulty passing, shooting, catching ... high-fiving?
Dr. Yoo: We all know how incredibly important our thumbs are for almost all activities that involve our hands. Having said that, if the bone heals well and full motion is recovered with good therapy — which you would expect — it probably won’t have any significant implications for basketball.
Obviously, it depends on how severe a break is. But overall most people tend to do well after a non-displaced thumb fracture. When people break a bone, they heal, forget it ever happened, and go on with their lives.
J.L.: Sound advice, indeed. I wish I’d heard this wise counsel last June!
Our thanks to Dr. Yoo. We will be checking in with him periodically throughout the season as injuries pop up.