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Jersey Finger

What is a jersey finger?

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Updated April 15, 2014

A jersey finger is an injury to one of the the finger tendons. Typically, an athlete will sustain a jersey finger while participating in tackling sports such as football or rugby. While an athlete is grasping a player's jersey to make the tackle, the tendon may be torn as the opposing player wrestles away. A jersey finger can occur in non-sporting activities, but is most commonly seen in the athletic setting.

A jersey finger is an injury to the flexor tendon of the finger. The flexor tendon pulls the finger down into the palm as you contract the flexor muscles of the forearm. The injury occurs at the tip of the finger, and typically the tendon snaps back to the base of the finger or even into the palm of the hand.

Symptoms of a Jersey Finger

An athlete who has sustained a jersey finger will be unable to bend the finger down into the palm of the hand. This is usually an obvious injury as the fingers normally rest in a partly flexed position. If you set your hand on the table at rest, the normal posture of the hand is a position similar to if you were to be holding a glass. The reason is that the tendons flexing (bending) and extending (straightening) your finger are balanced. Therefore the finger assumes this partly bent position. When the flexor tendon is injured, the finger will straighten excessively at rest. At rest, patients with a jersey finger will notice one finger straightened out unexpectedly.

Treatment of a Jersey Finger

As mentioned previously, the injured tendon snaps back all the way to the base of the finger, or perhaps even further. Therefore, if the injury is to be corrected, a surgical procedure is necessary. The surgery performed must accomplish the following general steps:
  • Locate the tendon at the base of the finger or in the palm

  • Thread the tendon through the finger in the proper position

  • Securely reattach the tendon to the tip of the finger
The final task is the most difficult, as early motion of the finger is critical for therapy. Therefore, the attachment must be sufficiently secure to tolerate this movement. Typically, the tendon is reattached to the bone by drilling small holes in the bone. Sutures are pulled through the bone, then through the fingernail, and tied on the back of the finger. The sutures are actually tied over a button that looks much like a shirt button. An alternative is to use a metal anchor to hold the sutures in the bone.

Jersey Finger Rehabilitation

After surgery, patients will work with a hand therapist to regain the motion of the finger. Flexor tendons have a tendency to become very stiff and scarred, and therefore working with a therapist is important. Even if appropriate hand therapy is done, stiffness is not an unusual complication of jersey finger surgery.

Early on in your therapy, you will be instructed on specific methods to move the tendons without pulling on the site of the repair. Return to tackling sports is usually delayed until complete healing has occurred, often 4-6 months.

Sources:

Peterson JJ, Bancroft LW. "Injuries of the fingers and thumb in the athlete" Clin Sports Med. 2006 Jul;25(3):527-42

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