Finger dislocation is a common injury. It occurs when the bones of the finger are moved (dislocated) from their normal position. A dislocated finger can occur in any of the joints of any finger, but it occurs most often in the middle knuckle of the little, ring, middle, or index finger.
Causes of a Dislocated Finger
A dislocated finger is caused by a "jamming" force to be applied to the end of the finger, or the finger may be forcefully overextended. Either of these situations, or a combination of both, can result in a dislocation. For example:
- During sports activities, a basketball or baseball may strike the tip of an outstretched finger.
- Your finger might get caught in equipment such as a game jersey or pads.
- You might fall onto your outstretched hand.
Symptoms of a Dislocated Finger
A dislocated finger is usually obvious. The finger appears crooked, swollen, and is very painful. It may be bent upward or at strange angles. You probably won’t be able to bend or straighten the finger if it is dislocated. Also:
- Numbness or tingling with a severe dislocation.
- The injured finger may appear a pale color.
- The dislocation may cause a break in the skin where the injury has occurred. If this occurs, you should get medical attention right away.
When to Seek Medical Care for a Dislocated Finger
When you have a dislocated finger, you should see a doctor at once. Delaying a visit to your doctor for a finger dislocation can make final treatment more difficult and can lead to delayed healing or permanent disability.
Seek medical attention immediately if there is any loss of sensation (numbness), if there are any open areas of skin, or if the finger is cold, pale, or bluish in color.
Exams and Tests for a Dislocated Finger
The doctor will first examine the finger you have injured. They will X-ray the finger to confirm the dislocation and look for any broken bones.
Finger Dislocation Treatment
It is not recommended that you treat a finger dislocation at home. A visit to your doctor or the emergency department is usually necessary.
- If you have a dislocated finger, the finger will swell. To prevent further injury to the finger, immediately remove any jewelry, such as rings.
- Apply an ice pack to your injured finger and elevate the hand above the level of your heart.
Medical Treatment for a Dislocated Finger
The doctor may realign the dislocated bones of your finger with a simple technique. This will often require a local anesthetic injection into the finger to help decrease or stop the pain and allow the doctor to reduce the dislocation and realign the bones. You may also receive medications by mouth, injection, or IV to help the pain and ease the reduction.
- Your injured finger will then be placed in a protective splint or be "buddy taped" to the healthy finger next to it.
- The doctor may get a second x-ray to confirm the realignment of your finger and to check for any broken bones that may not have shown up on the first X-ray.
Follow-up Care for a Dislocated Finger
Apply an ice pack to your dislocated finger for 20-30 minutes every 3-4 hours for the first 2-3 days or until the pain and swelling have subsided. This should lessen the pain and swelling that results from the finger dislocation.
- Elevate your injured finger on several pillows while lying down or on the back of a couch or chair while sitting. This will help reduce swelling and the pain that results.
- The doctor may prescribe anti-inflammatory medication to help control the pain of your injury. Take only as directed by your doctor.
- The doctor may refer you to a bone specialist in the week or so following your injury. The specialist will be able to monitor the healing process of your finger.
- Your finger will be splinted for 3-6 weeks if the healing process goes well.
- The doctor may give you exercises to perform during the healing process, which will help strengthen your finger and reduce the chance of decreased function of your finger.
How to Prevent a Finger Dislocation
Finger dislocations are usually the result of an accident and accidents are not always preventable. When possible, however, you should avoid getting your finger stuck in objects such as athletic jerseys, basketball nets, and football helmets.
Wear protective gloves when possible.
Remove rings or other jewelry before participating in athletic events and when working with your hands, particularly around machinery.
Outlook for a Dislocated Finger
Most simple finger dislocations can be put back into place easily. Full function in the injured finger will usually return. Mild or moderate discomfort or disability can continue for 12-18 months. You may expect some permanent swelling or disfigurement of the injured joint. There is an increased risk of developing arthritis in the joint later.
Occasionally, a fragment of the dislocated joint or some surrounding tissue can become lodged between the displaced bones. This prevents the bones from going into place. Surgery may be necessary to put the bones into the correct position. Results of this surgery are usually very good, but some function may be lost.
Tendon injuries also may occur with finger dislocations, such as mallet finger, jersey finger, central slip injury, and volar plate injury. If undiagnosed, these injuries can cause permanent loss of function and/or deformities.