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What Should I Do for a Hand Injury?

Medically Reviewed by Michael W. Smith, MD on September 15, 2021

If you injure your hand, there are a number of things you can do.  If your injury is too serious to do these things yourself, have someone else help.

When Should I Call 911?

  • If you are seriously injured.
  • If the injury includes amputation.
  • If a bone is sticking out of the skin.
  • If bleeding hasn’t stopped after several minutes of firm pressure.
  • If blood spurts from the wound.
  • The skin under the fingernail is blue.
  • If the hand feels numb or cold.

What Should I Do for Cuts?

  • Apply direct pressure until bleeding stops.
  • Remove rings and bracelets that may slow blood flow or compress nerves if swelling happens later.
  • Clean area with warm water and soap.
  • Apply antibiotic ointment and a sterile bandage.
  • Apply ice and elevate hand to reduce swelling.
  • If a finger or part of a finger has been cut off, collect all parts and tissue and put it in a plastic bag on ice for transport to the hospital.
  • See a health care provider immediately for a deep cut, puncture wound, animal bite, human bite, or a scrape that you can’t get clean, or if the cut shows signs of infection.

What Should I Do for Sprains, Finger Dislocations, or Fractures?

  • Apply ice to reduce swelling.
  • Keep the finger elevated above the heart.
  • If the finger is bent or deformed, don't try to straighten it.
  • See a doctor immediately.

What Should I Do for an Infection?

See your health care provider if a hand injury shows signs of infection, including redness, swelling, warmth, or discharge.

How Do I Control Swelling?

  • Apply an ice pack (don’t put ice directly against the skin).
  • If possible, remove any jewelry immediately.

How Do I Immobilize the Hand?

If your hand is numb or cold or the skin under the fingernails is blue, don’t move it. Otherwise:

  • Bend your arm at the elbow.
  • Don’t try to straighten the hand if it’s bent or deformed.
  • Have someone help you tie a splint on the lower arm with fabric or elastic bandages. Cardboard, rolled-up newspaper, or other stiff material can be used as a splint.
  • Get some help making a sling and put your arm in it. Put the sling around your neck to keep your arm bent.

When Are Other Times I Need to Get Medical Help?

See a health care professional immediately for any hand injury if:

  • Your hand or fingers won’t move.
  • New symptoms appear and won’t go away.

What Will Happen When I Go to the Doctor?

If you see a doctor, the next steps depend on the nature of the hand injury and how serious it is.

  • For bites, puncture wounds, burns, and some other hand injuries, the health care professional will give a tetanus shot or booster if you haven’t had one recently. They will also clean the wound and remove embedded dirt and debris.
  • For a fracture or dislocation, a doctor will X-ray the hand and may put on a splint or cast.
  • The doctor will check for feeling and range of motion in the hand to figure out whether there has been nerve or tendon damage.
  • To prevent or treat an infection, the doctor may prescribe antibiotics.
  • Surgery may be needed for some hand injuries.
  • Physical therapy or occupational therapy may be prescribed to help regain full function.
WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES:

Cleveland Clinic: "Hand and Wrist Injuries."

American Society for Surgery of the Hand: "Burns," "Hand Fractures."

American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons: "Fingertip Injuries/Amputations," "Animal Bites," "Human Bites," "Hand Fractures."

FamilyDoctor.org: "First Aid: Burns,” "First Aid: Cuts, Scrapes and Stitches."

Lucile Packard Children's Hospital: "Dislocations."

KidsHealth.org: "Broken Bones," "Burns," "Cuts: Instruction Sheet," "Frostbite: Instruction Sheet."

Red Cross: "Frostbite and Hypothermia."

University of California San Francisco Medical Center: "Hand and Wrist Fractures."

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