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Finger Sprain

Definition

A finger sprain is the stretching or tearing of ligaments that support the small joints of the finger. Ligaments are strong bands of tissue that connect bones to each other.

Finger Sprain

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Causes    TOP

A finger sprain usually results from a blow to the finger causing the finger to bend too much or in the wrong direction. This often occurs during athletic activity when an athlete jams a finger into another person, the ball, or piece of equipment. Finger sprains may also occur in other situations, such as falling on the hand..

Risk Factors    TOP

A risk factor is something that increases your chance of getting an injury. Risk factors for a finger sprain may include:

  • Playing sports, especially those involving the hands, such as basketball or volleyball
  • Poor coordination or balance
  • Weak ligaments

Symptoms    TOP

Symptoms include:

  • Pain and tenderness in the finger
  • Pain when moving the finger joint
  • Swelling of the finger joint

Diagnosis    TOP

The doctor will ask about your symptoms and how you injured your finger. The doctor will examine your finger to assess the stability of the joint and the severity of the injury.

Tests may include:

  • X-rays —to make sure that no bones are broken
  • MRI scan —used in some situations to see if a ligament has torn completely (rarely needed)

Finger sprains are graded according to their severity:

Grade 1

  • Stretching and microtearing of ligament tissue
  • Stable joint

Grade 2

  • Partial tearing of ligament tissue
  • Mild instability of the joint

Grade 3    TOP

  • Severe or complete tearing of ligament tissue
  • Significant instability of the joint

Treatment    TOP

In consultation with your doctor, treatment may include:

Rest

Avoid using the injured finger.

Ice

Apply ice or a cold pack to your finger for 15-20 minutes, four times a day, for several days or until the pain and swelling goes away. Ice helps to reduce pain and swelling in the sprained finger. Wrap the ice or cold pack in a towel. Do not apply the ice directly to your skin.

Compression    TOP

Wrap an elastic compression bandage around your finger. This will limit swelling and support your finger. Be careful not to wrap too tightly because it can cut off the circulation to your finger.

Elevation    TOP

Try to hold the injured hand above the level of your heart as much as possible for the first several days or until the swelling goes down. This will help drain fluid and reduce swelling.

Medication    TOP

The doctor may recommend:

  • Over-the-counter pain medicine (such as, ibuprofen , naproxen , acetaminophen , aspirin )
  • Topical pain medicines (such as cream or patches) that are applied to the skin
  • Prescription pain medicine

Splinting and Taping    TOP

You may need to wear a splint to immobilize your finger. If you play sports, you may need to tape your finger to the finger next to it when you return to play. Your doctor can show you how to splint or tape your finger.

Surgery    TOP

Surgery may be needed to repair a finger sprain if:

  • A small piece of bone has been broken off by the injury to the ligament.
  • A ligament is torn completely.

If you are diagnosed with a finger sprain, follow your doctor's instructions.

Prevention    TOP

You can reduce your risk of getting a finger sprain by learning and practicing correct technique in sports and using proper equipment. However, in many cases, sprains cannot be prevented.

RESOURCES:

American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons
http://www.aaos.org
American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine
http://www.sportsmed.org

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

Canadian Orthopaedic Association
http://www.coa-aco.org
Canadian Orthopaedic Foundation
http://www.canorth.org

References:

Association of Professional Team Physicians website. Available at: http://www.orthopaedicweblinks.com/Detailed/1399.html . Accessed July 7, 2009.
Renstrom P. Sports Injuries: Basic Principles of Prevention and Care. Boston, MA: Blackwell Scientific Publications; 1993.
Sprains and strains. National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases website. Available at: http://www.niams.nih.gov/Health_Info/Sprains_Strains/default.asp . Published April 2009. Accessed July 7, 2009.
1/4/2011 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance https://dynamed.ebscohost.com/about/about-us : Massey T, Derry S, Moore R, McQuay H. Topical NSAIDs for acute pain in adults. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2010;(6):CD007402.
Last reviewed September 2013 by Michael Woods, MD
Last Updated: 9/30/2013