Broken Finger Overview
Fingers let us touch, grasp, and interact with our environment, and they are easily injured. In fact, they are the most frequently injured part of the hand. Injuries may range from simple bruises or contusions to broken bones. In addition, injury to or dislocation of the knuckles, which are the joints formed by the bones of the fingers, are common with trauma to the hand.
Broken Finger Symptoms
Broken fingers rarely go unnoticed. Frequently, you have immediate pain after trauma and sometimes a deformed finger either at a joint (commonly a dislocation) or through the bone as a fracture. If there is no deformity, a person will typically feel a sharp pain at the injury site.
You may not always be sure the finger is broken and try to bend it. If it's broken, doing so will usually be painful. Don't be fooled if you can still move the finger. In some cases, there may still be some range of motion and only dull pain. Fractures are common, and how bad they hurt typically depends on their stability.
Usually within the next 5-10 minutes, you will notice swelling and redness. As the swelling continues, the finger will become stiff and difficult to move. Swelling may also spread to the adjacent fingers.
If the fracture is severe, you may see bruising. And if the swelling gets too massive, the finger may become numb as nerves in the fingers are compressed.
Seeking Medical Care
The best place to find medical treatment for a broken finger is an urgent care facility or a hospital's emergency department. These facilities are dedicated to the care of such injuries and have the needed equipment and supplies for X-ray evaluation and splinting if needed.
Temporary splinting, ice, and pain control are helpful supportive treatments. Make a splint to immobilize your finger even if that means putting a popsicle stick or pen next to it and wrapping something around the stick and your finger.
Apply ice to the injured finger as you head to an emergency department. Do not apply ice directly to your skin. Put a towel between the ice and your finger.
A doctor will need an X-ray to evaluate the broken finger bones. Treatment depends on the type of fracture and the individual bone or bones in the finger that are injured. The emergency doctor or an orthopedic surgeon will assess the stability of the broken finger. If the fracture is stable, treatment may be as simple as splinting 1 finger to another by taping them together. The splint will be left in place for about 4 weeks followed by an additional 2 weeks with no strenuous exercise.
If the fracture is unstable, the injured finger will need to be immobilized. Immobilization can be done in several different ways. The simplest is to apply a splint after aligning the fracture fragments. This usually does not maintain enough stability, so a surgical procedure may be needed.
Surgical options range from pinning the bones with small wires to open procedures using plates and screws to keep the bones in place. The surgeon will discuss the options with you and explain which procedure might be considered best and why.