Sprained Finger: Treatment and Management Tips

A sprained finger is typically considered a minor injury that can be managed easily with home care.

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Fingers may be small appendages but the injuries they incur are just as painful as any part of our body. They have quite a complicated anatomy comprised of tendons, arteries, veins, and nerves that are intertwined and laced around the joints. Most common finger injuries are pricks, cuts, splinters, burns and finger sprains. A sprained finger usually results from sports activities, carrying heavy loads or twisting it the wrong way to break a fall. 

Any part of the body with a joint can be subjected to a sprain.  Our bodies are being made up of joints to enable our movement. These joints are wrapped in ligaments and bands of tissue that connect and support them. When you jam these joints the wrong way, these physical impacts reverberate all the way to its joint causing it to hyperextend and eventually stretch or tear the ligaments and cause mild to extreme pain. 

A Sprained Finger or  Broken Finger? 

How do you know if you sprained a finger or broke your finger? It is not always simple to tell the difference as both injuries can still allow a range of motion of the finger, There is immediate pain and within 10 minutes, swelling and redness will ensue. A broken finger may show deformity depending on the type of fracture and severity of the injury. Other times a broken finger with no visible deformity will have a sharp pain on the injured site and as the swelling progresses onto the adjacent fingers, the injured finger will become stiff and unable to move. If you just managed to cause a sprained finger, there will be varying degrees of pain and numbness. Difficulty in bending or straightening the finger is expected along with bruising. 

Should You Seek Medical Help? 

The similar general symptoms of a sprained finger and a broken finger often make it difficult to assess if you may need to see a doctor. Pain, swelling, limited mobility, and bruising are present but the degree of pain will vary for each grade of sprains which may help you determine your course of action.

  1. First-degree Sprain: Localized swelling on the joint with mild and tolerable pain when moved. You will have restricted the ability to flex or extend  your finger
  2. Second-degree Sprain: Moderate pain due to possible partial tear of tissues. Significant swelling of the entire finger will be a visible and a very limited range of movement for the finger.
  3. Third-degree Sprain: Severe pain and swelling indicating a huge tear or rupture of the ligament. Movement of a finger will cause intense pain. 

Mild sprains can be managed and treated at home. However, if within three to four days you do not notice improvement on the swelling, bruising, pain and mobility — it would be wise to schedule an appointment with your doctor. Upon inspection of your finger joints, your doctor may require an X-ray to check for fracture or dislocation as this will enable a proper evaluation of the extent of the injury. 

How Do You Treat a Sprained Finger? 

Active people engaged in sports usually know this first -aid protocol when they are injured or incur joint sprains. RICE is the first approach to treatment with sprains. 

  • R – rest: you will need ample time to rest the injured finger joint 
  • I – ice:   immediately apply ice packs wrapped in a towel for 20 minutes or submerge it in cold water. This will reduce the swelling as well as the pain
  • C – compression: wrap the affected joint and immobilize 
  • E – elevate: it is important to elevate the injured finger to ease blood flow and pressure into swollen and constricted veins. This helps with pain and swelling.  

You may want to take pain relievers but some prefer to tough it out if the pain is tolerable and does not cause sleep disruption. 

Managing A Sprained Finger: After Treatment  Tips 

A sprained finger is typically considered a minor injury that can be managed easily with home care. Sprains are painful but can be treated and with expected full recovery of the injured joint.  The main goal in the treatment of a sprained finger is to enable it to return to normal function and mobility prior to the injury. It may take about one to two weeks for healing and full recovery. However, third-degree sprains may take a few months. 

While waiting for the injured finger to heal and gain mobility, here are some tips to help hasten recovery : 

  1. Avoid using /moving the injured finger. Buddy taping a sprained finger to the next finger helps support the joint during healing. Do not keep the joints taped together for too long. 
  2. After the swelling has subsided ( about 72 hrs ) you may apply heat therapy every few hours on the injured finger to allow good blood circulation for faster healing.
  3. Try to slowly straighten the finger on its own when there is no longer any pain. Let it get used to its functions slowly. This minimizes stiffness in the joints.

Other Types of Finger Injuries 

There are other ways of causing injuries to your fingers apart from sprains and fractures. Although they may still have the same general symptoms, the extent of tearing in the ligaments may render them more severe. 

Volar Plate Injury 

The volar plate of the finger is a thick ligament that joins two bones by its joints.  A volar plate injury happens when you accidentally bend it backwards the wrong way. Commonly called a jammed finger, a hyperextension force causes the ligament to tear when the finger is bent too far back. In its mildest form this may cause a sprain and in its severity may also result in a fracture.

Dislocated Finger 

Not necessarily broken or fractured, a dislocated finger occurs when your finger joints are displaced causing injury to the ligaments and surrounding soft tissue. Your finger will have visible deformity accompanied by intense pain. This type of injury will require medical help immediately as this is considered a traumatic impact on the finger.  There will be a great difficulty with movement and may indicate nerve damage. Blood vessel damage may also occur resulting in a cold and pale hand. Do not attempt to move the finger and put it back in place. Quickly remove any jewelry as swelling will be severe

Although sometimes people can put a dislocated joint in place, if you do not know how to do it, it is best to leave this up to the doctor. Specific manipulation techniques are used to move the joints back into position. There are instances when local anesthetics are given to help the patient with pain tolerance. Finger buddy taping will help immobilize the joint and allow the finger to heal. 

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