Returning sensation to the tip of my thumb after an injury
February 10, 2014 8:23 PM   Subscribe

I cut the tip of my thumb in September while on a mountaineering trip. It was a pretty nasty cut and the injured area - which intersects with my nail bed in two places - is still numb 4+ months later.

The injury healed cleanly, though the injured area which is about 1/4 of a dime in size is still slightly raised relative to the rest of the skin and the edges of the injury where the thumb was cut are faintly scarred. The nail grew out with a big bump and a bunch of little bubbles, but appears to be largely back to normal at this point.

But - still no sensation. My doctor rather phlegmatically says to give it a year or and the little, hairlike nerves may recover.

Is there anything I can do to hasten this recovery (e.g. massaging it? leaving it alone?) Anyone with personal experience with this kind of injury?
posted by arnicae to Health & Fitness (18 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I do not know what you could do to speed up the recovery, although I've had similar (more dramatic) injuries to my hands and TIME has definitely played a valuable role, so I wouldn't discount that idea. My injuries included nearly complete amputation, yet over time I now have a fair amount of sensation - although function isn't all that great.
posted by blaneyphoto at 8:28 PM on February 10, 2014

Sensation will come back, but it will take time. I've an operation on a fingertip where it took several years to regain normal sensation. More recently, I have dealt with pretty damn severe carpal tunnel syndrome that affected my entire hand, and that took about a year to reverse...
posted by KokuRyu at 8:34 PM on February 10, 2014

I took off the tip of my ring finger with a mandolin two summers ago--I sliced off a little perfect round circle of meat. The scar looks like an oval blister, about 1mm x 2mm. The edges of the scar are numb--I can feel pressure on the finger but not touch on the skin, if you know what I mean--but the centre is very, very sensitive. It has improved some (the sensitive area is less sensitive) so time helps, but it isn't back to what it was.
posted by looli at 8:36 PM on February 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

I have a similar story to looli - middle finger, just the tip, maybe eighteen months ago?, and I have sensation but not normal sensation in the healed bit.
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:41 PM on February 10, 2014

I sliced off a chunk of my thumb decades ago and while it eventually regained sensation, it's not trustworthy as described in this other thread about slicing off part of a fingertip.
posted by jamaro at 8:53 PM on February 10, 2014

My obstetrician told me, when I had a C-section, that the nerves grow back, at their fastest, at a rate of about 1 mm per month.

And also that they itch when doing so.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:01 PM on February 10, 2014 [2 favorites]

I also cut the very tip of one finger off, years ago, and it took a long time to regain feeling. Longer than four months. I didn't do anything special.
posted by rtha at 9:14 PM on February 10, 2014

I burned the crap out of my index finger and thumb by picking up a piece of glass that had just stopped being red in a lab about 20 years ago. The apparent injury was not so bad. I seared off the fingerprint with the glass and it hurt like hell but there was no apparent 2nd or 3rd degree injury.

I did however lose all sense of heat sensitivity in the index finger. The thumb had temporary loss of heat sensation but it came back in a few weeks. My index finger tip still cannot feel heat. Pain yes. Heat no.

My point is bodies are weird and sometimes you won't get the sensation back. It sucks but there it is. Sometimes people say scars are sexy.
posted by kalessin at 9:34 PM on February 10, 2014

P.S. the fingerprint also grew back on the index finger, just the neural damage remains.
posted by kalessin at 9:35 PM on February 10, 2014

i basically did the same thing about eight or nine months ago.

I saw a hand surgeon, because my injury wasn't healing right at first. He told me the sensation is going to come back very slowly, and that touching my finger a lot might help it a bit.

It hasn't been a full year yet, and while I do have some sensation in that part of my thumb, it's still not quite right.
posted by inertia at 10:16 PM on February 10, 2014

I'll echo looli and LobsterMitten's experiences. I sliced off a little chunk of my left index finger (sewing rotary cutter!) about 18 months ago and it's definitely approaching normal sensation, but still not fully normal.
posted by wsquared at 10:31 PM on February 10, 2014

I knew someone who lost part of the fleshy ball of their thumb (they were stabbed by a sea urchin and had a bone infection and subsequent scrapings and other operations).

Anyway, for what it's worth, their physio included 30 minutes a day of swishing their thumb around in a bowl of lentils (!!). The surgeon said this could be effective in helping with nerve growth and their overall sensation in the thumb. Eventually sensation returned (like, after a year) though her thumb is sort of a funny shape.
posted by Rumple at 10:38 PM on February 10, 2014

Nerve damage takes the time it takes to heal and supposedly there's nothing you can do to hurry it along. (I have a big numb spot on the side of my neck from cancer surgery.)
posted by gingerest at 1:21 AM on February 11, 2014

I damaged the flesh of my thumb, ripped out the nail and split the top badly last January. The nail grew back in 6 months. The tip was yellow, tingling and numb the whole time. At some point after that, it went back to normal, the yellowness and numbness now gone. I don't know when - so gradual that I never noticed when it finally happened - thanks for alerting me and allowing me to celebrate my healing!
posted by Hugobaron at 3:01 AM on February 11, 2014

I have paresthesia on my chin from damage to my nerve during wisdom teeth removal (you know those very rare side effects that they warn you about because they have to but tell you never to worry about? Yeah).

It was horrendous the first couple of months, very annoying the next six months, and faded significantly after a year. Now, three years out, the area is not fully healed (because it never will be) but it is definitely not affecting my life anymore.

So, anecdotally, nerves may regenerate/heal but there is nothing you can do about it but wait.
posted by lydhre at 7:27 AM on February 11, 2014

I cut roughly halfway through one of my figures, above the first joint and into the nail bed, about 30 years ago. Full sensation has never returned.
posted by kjs3 at 8:47 AM on February 11, 2014

I only have one constructive suggestion (see the final paragraph of my answer). Other than that all I can do is echo what others have said above.

Nerve damage is very unpredictable in its healing, other than that it's very slow. You may regain some or all of your lost sensation, or then again you may not. It may take weeks, or months, or years to heal as much as it's going to. You may regain direct sensation like you originally had, or you may only get deferred sensation (your nervous system may just remap its image of your body, so that sensations from nearby nerves may feel as if they are coming from your damaged fingertip even though they are not). You may or may not experience paresthesia (pins and needles, persistent hot or cold sensations) which, if they do occur, may or may not fade with time.

There's very little to do other than wait and see. Fortunately injuries like yours tend to heal better than other nervous system injuries; there are no guarantees, but your chances of a satisfactory recovery are better than they could be.

One thing you could try though is to consult with a physical therapist who specializes in peripheral nervous system injuries. If there's anything you can do to encourage healing (or at least not discourage it) then he or she would be able to advise you. Since your fingertips are rather important from a sensory perspective, I think this would be a worthwhile step. My guess though would be that there's not a lot you can do to affect the process either way. Good luck, though!
posted by Scientist at 9:39 AM on February 11, 2014

I whacked the underside of the end of my thumb with a tablesaw around 1974. Went almost to the bone. I asked the doctor if the feeling would come back, he said it would take "a long time". Evidently that means more than 40 years. I have some feeling in it, but it's never gotten back to normal, it's just "off" a bit.

One of the other posters mentioned heat. I worked in a factory where I drilled holes in and assembled little bits of aluminum that would be incorporated into airplanes. You pretty much just had to hold the parts when you drilled to avoid screwing them up in some manner.
It's great entertainment to go into the Mexican restaurant and have the waiter come over with a plate held in gloves, saying "Hot plate senor", then just nod, smile, take the plate, smile some more, and set it on the table no big deal.
Of course, it's not so fun to not be able to feel the warmth and softness of my daughter's skin like mere mortals could.
posted by rudd135 at 7:20 PM on February 11, 2014

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