Finger Sprain

The bones in each of your fingers are connected by joints. A finger dislocation occurs when a bone in your finger is forced out of its normal joint position. With the joint separated, the finger loses most of its ability to bend and extend.

A direct blow to the hand, fingers, or thumb may cause a dislocation. Falls and contact sports, such as baseball and football, are commonly linked to finger dislocations.

Other factors may contribute to a finger dislocation such as:

  • previous injuries that have damaged the bone or soft tissues (ligaments)
  • using improper equipment during daily activities and exercise
  • diseases that affect the joints, such as rheumatoid arthritis

A sprain is an injury in which ligaments are overstretched or torn. Ligaments are strong bands of tissue that connect two bones together. Finger sprains occur when a finger joint is forced beyond its normal range of movement and a ligament is damaged.

Sprains are classified according to the extent of the injury:

    Mild (Grade I) sprains involve a tear of some of the fibers in the ligament. The finger is still functional and healing is usually rapid.
    Moderate (Grade II) sprains occur when part of the ligament is torn apart. There is some loss of function and healing will likely take longer than with a mild sprain.
    Severe (Grade III) sprains result when the ligament is torn completely apart or separated from the bone. Most finger movement is lost and surgery is needed to repair the damage.

What causes it?
Finger sprains are commonly caused by accidents, such as a blow to the finger or falling on an outstretched hand. They can also occur from activities that place repeated or prolonged stress on a finger joint.

What are the symptoms?
You may feel a tear or pop at the time of injury. This is followed by pain, swelling, and bruising in the area.

How is it diagnosed?
Your doctor will ask you about your injury and examine the finger. An X-ray of your wrist and hand may be needed to check for broken bones.

What is the treatment?
Conservative treatment usually includes rest and immobilization for the finger. You may need to wear a splint or have the finger "buddy-taped" to the finger next to it for approximately two weeks. Ice packs may be used for the first few days every three to four hours (10 to 15 minutes at a time) to reduce swelling. Your doctor may recommend anti-inflammatory medications to reduce swelling and pain. You may begin exercises to regain flexibility and strength in the finger when cleared by your doctor.

Severe sprains may require surgical treatment to repair the ligaments. Postoperatively, you may need to wear a protective splint for about four to six weeks. Your doctor may also refer you for hand therapy with an occupational or physical therapist.

What is the outlook?
Typically, finger sprains heal well in patients who follow their rehabilitation program. Ligaments require from two to 10 weeks to heal. A small number of patients do experience complications such as re-injury, joint instability, arthritis, or inflammation where the ligament attaches to the bone. Your recovery will depend on your age, overall health, and the extent of your injury.