A fractured finger is a surprisingly common injury. In fact, of all the components in our hands, the fingers are the most likely to get damaged. Having a finger bone fracture is a nuisance—it’s painful and it seriously limits everyday activities. Even worse, it can lead to long-term complications if left untreated. Luckily, this condition is easy to treat with both medical interventions and home remedies. Read on to learn more about recognizing and recovering from a fractured finger.
What is a Fractured Finger?
A fractured finger occurs when one or more of the bones in the finger breaks. Each finger contains three bones, called phalanges, while the thumb has two phalanges. The knuckle—the joint where phalanges meet—is also susceptible to fractures.
Fractures are among the most common causes of finger pain, along with arthritis of the thumb and finger. There are countless types of finger fractures, although the symptoms for most are similar.
Types of Finger Fractures
Finger fracture can be classed by the method of the break, the bone position, or the involvement of skin. In general, symptoms of a finger fracture are quite similar regardless of the type of fracture.
Nonetheless, it can be helpful to know some of the most common types of fracture, which include:
- Avulsion fracture of the finger—a piece of bone attached to either a ligament or tendon tears away from the main bone.
- Impacted fracture—the broken ends of the bone smash together due to the force of the injury.
- Shear fracture—the bone splits in two because of the nature of the force applied to it.
- Spiral fracture of the finger—a long bone is forcefully twisted.
- Open fracture of the finger—also called a compound fracture of the finger, this occurs when the bone breaks through the skin, causing an open wound.
- Closed finger fracture—a broken bone that does not pierce the skin.
- Nondisplaced fracture of the finger—also known as a stable fracture, the bone cracks but does not move out of its position.
- Displaced fractured finger—the bone breaks into pieces and moves out of alignment.
- Comminuted fracture—a displaced fracture where the bone breaks into at least three pieces.
- Hairline fracture of the finger— also known as a stress fracture, this type appears as tiny cracks in the bone due to repetitive stress.
Causes of a Fractured Finger
A fractured finger usually results from physical trauma or injury that is severe enough to affect the bone. You can fracture a finger by:
- Slamming your fingers in a door
- Catching a baseball
- Dropping a heavy object on the hand
- Using the hands to break a fall
- Being careless when using tools or playing sports
However, not everyone who gets a blow to the hand will suffer a finger fracture. Other factors play a role in the chances of fracturing a finger. These are known as risk factors.
The risk factors for a fractured finger include:
- A bone condition such as osteoporosis
- Low levels of essential nutrients for bone health, such as calcium and vitamin D
- Advancing age, as older adults are more likely to have weak bones
- Involvement in a traffic collision or other type of impact
Athletes and manual laborers are at increased risk of fractured fingers because their hands are subjected to repetitive or heavy forces on a regular basis.
Fractured Finger Symptoms
It’s rare to be unaware that you have a fractured finger. Most people feel a sharp pain immediately after the injury. This pain becomes more intense when trying to bend or move the finger.
Some people with a fracture will have a certain range of motion in the affected finger, although movement is usually painful. The level of pain depends on the type and severity of the fracture. Just because the pain isn’t extreme, it doesn’t mean that the finger isn’t fractured.
In addition to pain and limited range of motion, other signs of a fractured finger include:
- Swelling, which may spread to the surrounding fingers or cause a numb sensation as nerves become compressed
- Misshapen or misaligned (deformed) fingers
- Bleeding and an open wound in the case of an open fracture
Fractures at the end bone in the finger (the distal phalanx) can cause additional symptoms such as black fingernails due to blood pooling under the nail. If this excess blood causes undue pressure and pain, you may need to have it drained.
Your doctor can diagnose a finger fracture by taking a medical history and performing a physical exam. You should tell your doctor:
- How you got the injury
- When it occurred
- The symptoms you are experiencing
Usually, the doctor will check how your fingers line up and ask you to make a fist or move your hand in specific ways.
To confirm the diagnosis of a fractured finger, x-ray images are usually required. Your doctor may be able to take an x-ray, or they may send you to the hospital’s emergency department. An x-ray shows which bone you fractured and the type of fracture you sustained. This information can help in the formulation of a treatment plan.
Fractured Finger Treatment
Although a finger fracture may seem like a minor injury, it’s a big deal. If the bones of the hand do not line up correctly, you may struggle to use a pen or carry out other activities. Treatment helps to align the bone and prevent long-term issues.
The treatment options for a fractured finger depend on the severity of the break and whether the fracture is open or closed. Your doctor can advise you on the best treatments for your specific type of fracture. Typically, they will suggest some of the following:
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Ice won’t heal a broken finger, but it’s a fantastic remedy for both pain and inflammation. Apply ice to the injured digit immediately after the injury until you get it checked out. You can then apply ice up to four times daily for fifteen minutes at a time until pain and swelling subside. We recommend using a gel ice pack as it won’t burn the skin like regular ice can.
Finger Fracture Splint
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Most fractured fingers require immobilization to allow the injured bones time to mend. A fractured finger cast or splint is the best way to immobilize your finger while still enjoying use of the rest of the hand.
You can make a temporary splint by securing a pen or popsicle stick with tape to your injured finger. Typically, a stable fracture will need to be splinted for four weeks. During this time, we recommend wearing a trigger finger splint, especially if you have a fractured middle finger or fractured index finger. Unstable fracture fragments will need to be aligned before splinting.
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While the bone is mending, you can take over-the-counter non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to relieve discomfort. Examples include ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) and naproxen (Aleve). NSAIDs are not suitable for long-term use however, as they can cause gastrointestinal issues.
Always speak with your doctor before use. Follow the dosage recommendations on the packet and keep track of your medication intake with a pill organizer.
Finger Fracture Surgery
Surgery is typically reserved for unstable, displaced, or open finger fractures. A surgical procedure can stabilize the fracture in cases of loose bone fragments, multiple fractures, or injury to the joint, ligaments, or tendons.
A surgeon will assess these types of complicated fractures on a case-by-case basis. Surgical options include pinning the bones in place with wires or using plates and screws.
If you have an open fracture, your doctor will surgically clean the wound before treating the fracture. You may be given a tetanus shot or antibiotics to stop an infection from developing.
Strengthening Recovery Exercises
Once your doctor confirms the bone has healed—usually with a follow-up x-ray—then you can begin the process of regaining your finger strength.
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Simple daily rehabilitation exercises using therapy putty or a finger strengthener will quickly get you back in shape. These recovery aids also alleviate stiffness and swelling and return full range of motion to the finger.
Some people, especially older adults and those who require extended periods of immobilization, may need to see a physical therapist or hand therapist. These professionals provide a program of stretching and strengthening techniques to restore finger function. It’s important that you keep working on your finger strength on a regular basis, because your range of motion may continue to improve for up to a year after injury.
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Finger Fracture Healing Time
Many people ask, “how long does a fractured finger take to heal?” In general, most fractures successfully heal within four to six weeks of treatment. When dealing with a complicated fractured finger, recovery time is longer—up to a year in some cases.
The outlook depends on several factors, including the type of fracture, a person’s general bone health, and the presence of nerve or vascular injuries. To prevent complications—such as hand deformities or loss of strength—it’s crucial that you get a proper diagnosis and follow a treatment program.
Additionally, your doctor may want you to attend a follow-up appointment one week after the injury. They may take another x-ray to check that the bone fragments are in their correct position. Attending this appointment is a crucial step in the recovery process as misaligned fingers can slow down healing and lead to permanent deformity.
Some people experience a stiff finger after a fracture. This is probably the most common complication of a broken bone. Stiffness and loss of mobility can be avoided or treated by using therapy putty and other hand strengthening devices. You can also work with a physical therapist to rehabilitate the hand and regain finger strength.
Rarely, the finger may become infected after surgery. See a doctor immediately if you experience signs of infection, including:
- Increase in pain or swelling around the finger
- Discharge or a bad smell from the surgical wounds
It’s not possible to prevent all cases of fractured finger, especially those caused by car accidents or sudden falls. But you can take certain steps to reduce your risk of injury. Try to:
Eat a balanced diet with enough vitamin D, calcium, and magnesium for bone health.
Use assistive devices if you have balance problems, such as a cane or walker.
Recovering from a Fractured Finger
It’s easy to fracture a finger, especially if you have bone disease, play sports, or engage in manual labor. Luckily, the outlook for a fractured finger is excellent if you seek prompt medical attention after your injury and follow a treatment plan. Some of the most effective treatments include ice and using a splint or taping your finger. It’s also imperative that you use finger strengthening tools and exercises to rehabilitate your hand and prevent long-term complications.