Maybe you jammed your finger while playing a sport, or you fell on your hand by accident. Whatever the cause, you feel pain in one of your fingers and you might see some swelling, too. Is it a sprain or something else?
If you sprain a part of your body, it means you either stretched or tore one of your ligaments. It may feel “jammed.”
A ligament is a band of soft tissue. Most connect the outside surface of one bone to another bone.
A sprain is different from a strain, which is an injury to one of your muscles or tendons, the cords of tissue that connect your muscles to your bones.
A common cause of finger sprains is an injury that causes your finger either to bend too far or bend in the wrong direction. If your finger bends backwards, it’s called “hyperextension.”
You might accidentally bend your finger in these ways during physical activities -- especially in sports that involve using your hands, like basketball. You might accidentally jam your finger into a piece of equipment like the ball, or into another player, causing a sprain.
It’s also possible to sprain your finger if you fall on your hand. You’re more likely to get a sprain if you have problems with balance or coordination, which makes you more likely to fall, or if you have weak ligaments.
If your finger is sprained, you might have:
- Pain or stiffness in one of your finger joints when you try to move it
- Tenderness in your joint when you touch the area
- Swelling in one of your finger joints
Sometimes athletes who get sprained fingers ignore the injury. But the pain can be severe, and left untreated, it could get worse.
If you do have a finger sprain, your doctor will assign it a grade based on how severe it is:
Grade 1: Your joint is stable but you have some stretching or microtearing in your ligament.
Grade 2: You have some mild instability in your joint and partial tearing in your ligament.
Grade 3: There’s significant instability in your joint and you’ve either severely or completely torn your ligament.
Your doctor may recommend RICE therapy to manage your symptoms. RICE stands for Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation:
Rest: If a specific sport or activity caused your sprain, take a break from it for a while to help your finger heal.
Ice: Within the first 24 hours of your injury, you should apply ice to the area for 15 minutes at a time. If your symptoms last longer than that, you can do this for several days after the injury too. This will ease any swelling or inflammation in your joint, and help ease the pain. Don’t put the ice directly on your skin. Instead, put it in a plastic bag or a cloth.
Compression: Your doctor may recommend that you wear an elastic compression bandage around your finger to provide support and prevent swelling.
Elevation: During the first 24 hours after your injury, try to keep your injured hand elevated to reduce swelling.
Your doctor may also suggest that you take an anti-inflammatory medication (such as aspirin, ibuprofen, or naproxen) to help with your pain. She may also recommend that you put your finger in a splint or tape it to the finger next to it, which is called buddy taping. If you do buddy taping, make sure to tape your middle finger to your index finger and your ring finger to your pinky.
If your injury is severe, meaning your ligament is completely torn or a piece of your bone has broken off, you may need surgery.