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Core Knowledge

Injury/Pain

How to Treat a Dislocated Finger

Overview

A dislocated finger is an injury where the ends of the finger bones are forced out of their normal alignment. It's a painful, but fairly common sports injury. If you reach, grab, pull, or push while playing your sport, a dislocated finger is always a possibility.

Clive Brunskill / Getty Images

In most cases, no one will have to tell you what has happened. The dislocation is visually obvious and requires immediate medical care. Don’t try to fix it yourself or let a friend move it back into place.

How a Dislocated Fingers Happen

A dislocated finger occurs when the bones of a finger are moved out of their normal position because of the impact of the fingers against an object, person, ball, or piece of equipment. There are three joints in each finger (not counting the thumb). The middle joint is the one most frequently injured in athletes. Typical scenarios are a basketball player reaching for a ball, a volleyball player trying to deflect a smash or a football player grabbing his opponent, getting his finger caught in a piece of equipment, or deflecting a quarterback’s pass at close range.

Dislocated Fingers by the Numbers

6
Maximum number of hours you have to get a dislocated finger treated by a health care professional. If not treated early, recovery and rehabilitation could be difficult.

4-6
Number of weeks you may need to recover if surgery is required to correct a dislocated finger.

Who’s At Risk for Dislocated Fingers

Athletes who play sports where they are continually reaching for a ball or some object are most susceptible. Basketball, football, and volleyball players are a very high-risk group. Wrestlers, water polo players, and rock climbers are also at risk of dislocating a finger.

Symptoms

  • Excruciating pain, bruising, swelling
  • Loss of function in the finger
  • Visible deformity (usually bent backwards)
  • Numbness

Initial Treatment

  • Get medical attention immediately, even if you're not sure whether or not a dislocation has occurred.
  • Don’t try to do anything other than immobilize the finger and put an ice pack on it to limit swelling.
  • Once a doctor has confirmed that it's a dislocated finger, follow their instructions closely.
  • Heat can be used to make the finger feel better, but only after your doctor has treated the dislocation, the swelling has been controlled, and the doctor has given approval.
  • Aspirin, acetaminophen, ibuprofen, and naproxen may relieve pain, but your doctor is likely to prescribe a stronger, short-term pain reliever.

Comeback Strategy

You can return to practice and competition when these four things happen:

  1. The dislocated finger is back in place.
  2. Your doctor confirms that a bone hasn't been broken.
  3. Your doctor determines that the joint is stable.
  4. The pain and swelling diminishes enough to allow you to participate in your sport.

You will probably have to wear a protective splint or have the injured finger taped to a supporting finger for several weeks. Participate in activities that don’t put your dislocated finger at risk (running, walking, cycling and swimming). When surgery is needed, count on at least 4-6 weeks before you can return to full participation in your sport (if it involves the use of your hands).

How to Avoid Dislocated Fingers

You may be able to prevent a subsequent dislocation by using a protective splint, taping it to another finger, or, in some cases, using a cast. Wear the gloves or other protective equipment recommended for your sports.

Jim Brown, Ph.D. has written 14 books on health, medicine, and sports. His articles have appeared in the Washington Post, New York Post, Sports Illustrated for Women and Better Homes & Gardens. He also writes for the Duke School of Medicine, UCLA School of Medicine, Cleveland Clinic and Steadman-Hawkins Research Foundation.


Tags: Upper Body, Injury, Hand, Pain, Injury Prevention

References

  1. Athletes’ Performance
  2. eMedicineHealth
  3. University of Iowa Health Care
  4. University of Michigan Health System

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