The bones and joints of the thumb are critical for the normal function of the human hand, so any thumb fracture is more serious than a “regular” finger fracture, as a general rule.
The nature Jay Cutler’s thumb injury
The exact fracture type is unknown, so I’m speculating here for the most part – fair warning.
The injury happened when Jay fell onto his outstretched hand, which probably created a violent stretching of the thumb away from the fingers and palm.
This injury can tear ligaments or break bones.
Sometimes if the pieces of broken bone are lined up perfectly next to each other or it’s just a hairline break, the bone may be strong enough in about 4 weeks.
Since we know Jay had surgery by Dr. Viola in Vail, Colorado, I’m guessing that the fractured pieces were moved away from each other (displaced), which usually requires surgery to fix.
Interestingly, hand surgeons in Vail treat a lot of skier’s thumb injuries – slightly different than the type of fracture Jay allegedly had, but it happens the same way when a skier falls on his outstretched hand.
Jay Cutler’s injury may be a Bennett’s fracture
Some reports state that Jay had a Bennett’s fracture. This is a broken metacarpal bone in the thumb, where the thumb joins up with the wrist.
It involves a break right into the most important joint in the hand – the basilar thumb joint – a common place for arthritis to develop later in life.
Surgery can involve putting pins in through the skin as the surgeon holds the thumb fracture in place. This would leave pins either sticking out of the skin or cut below the skin level. The patient usually wears a splint or cast over the pins when this happens.
Another type of surgery involves putting a plate or screws inside the thumb, on the bone, through an incision. This may let the patient move the thumb sooner, but is more invasive, and may not necessarily let the athlete return to play any sooner.
Why Cutler’s return to play may be longer than six weeks
A broken bone heals in about six weeks. However, patients need about two or three weeks of intensive rehabilitation therapy to regain flexibility and strength after the bone heals. Therefore, Jay may not be back on the field for eight weeks or so, depending on his pain level, flexibility, and confidence with the hand.
Another surgeon’s explanation of Jay’s thumb injury and rehab
In this video, Dr. Mark Cohen, a hand surgeon in Chicago and member of the American Society for Surgery of the Hand, gives us his opinion about Jay Cutler’s injury and potential recovery.