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Sprained Finger

Diagnosis and Treatment of Finger Sprains and Dislocations

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Updated April 04, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

A detail of a splint on the finger of Dirk Nowitzki #41 of the Dallas Mavericks against the Miami Heat in Game Two of the 2011 NBA Finals at American Airlines Arena on June 2, 2011 in Miami, Florida. Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
Finger sprains and dislocations are common injuries. Both sprains and dislocations cause damage to the ligaments that support the finger joints -- in more severe injuries, a dislocation may occur, necessitating the finger to be "put back into place" or "reduced."

Finger Sprains

Finger sprains are injuries that cause a stretching and tearing of the ligaments of the fingers or thumb. The most common causes of finger sprains are sports injuries and falls onto your hand. Often, the finger bends unusually, causing the ligament injury and subsequent pain.

What are the symptoms of a sprained finger?
Symptoms of a finger sprain include pain, swelling, and tenderness of the finger. An x-ray should be performed to ensure that there is no bone fracture.

How is a finger sprain treated?
Finger sprains are often splinted or buddy-taped (taped to an adjacent finger) for a short period of time. So long as there was no fracture or dislocation, most finger sprains should be allowed to move within about a week. Splinting the sprained finger during sports can help protect the injury, but unnecessarily splinting the finger cause cause it to stiffen up. You should discuss with your doctor when to begin finger movements.

Other treatments for a sprained finger include:

Thumb sprains and certain finger sprains in children may require a longer period of immobilization or evaluation by a specialist, especially if there is concern that a ligament was torn. One injury in particular, the so-called "Gamekeeper's thumb," requires immobilization and occasionally surgery. This particular injury is important because chronically injured ligaments at this joint affect our ability to pinch.

Finger Dislocations

A finger dislocation is a more severe injury to the ligament. When a joint is dislocated, the normal alignment of the finger is altered, and the joint must be put back into place.

When the joint is dislocated, the ligaments and joint capsule surrounding the injured joint are torn. Sometimes, these ligaments do not heal adequately and surgery is occasionally needed to repair the injured structures. That said, most finger dislocations can be treated with a simple splint. Once the joint has been put back into position, the finger is splinted to allow the ligaments and joint capsule to heal.

Treatment of a dislocated finger is similar to that of a sprained finger. You should should ice and elevate the injured finger after the injury. After the dislocation has been reduced (put back into position), the joint should be splinted and an x-ray obtained. The x-ray is performed to ensure the joint is perfectly aligned, and that there was no fracture that occurred at the time of the injury. Then follow your doctor's recommendations for when to begin finger motion.

Sources:

Leggit JC, Meko CJ "Acute finger injuries: part I. Tendons and Ligaments" Am Fam Physician. 2006 Mar 1;73(5):823.

Leggit JC, Meko CJ "Acute finger injuries: part II. Fractures, dislocations, and thumb injuries" Am Fam Physician. 2006 Mar 1;73(5):839.

"Thumb Sprains." American Society for Surgery of the Hand. © 2006.

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