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How to Tape or Splint a Sprained Finger

by Jaydee Vykoukal, PT, DPT July 13, 2020 0 Comments

Taping sprained finger

Learning how to tape or splint a sprained finger is one of the most effective ways to promote long-term healing. As this injury is so common, finding the right techniques for supporting your injured finger is a must. Keep reading to learn more about how to tape or splint a sprained finger.

How Bracing Can Aid Recovery

When ligaments are overstretched and result in a sprain, they typically require a period of rest for healing. Movement can be painful, cause further injury, or aggravate swelling initially. Bracing can help prevent unnecessary use of the finger; which can be difficult since we are so used to using our hands all day, every day. Here are just a few of the benefits of finger bracing with tape or a splint:

  • Decreased overall pain
  • Better swelling management
  • Promoting necessary rest time in the acute phase of injury
  • Possible restoration of stability to the affected finger joint (if instability is a concern)
  • A great adjunct to other home treatment options for optimizing recovery 

Buddy Taping

Buddy taping is a great way to offer additional support to a sprained finger, with a simple process anyone can learn.

  • When to Buddy Tape

    Buddy taping is a simple solution for mild to moderate finger sprains. When symptoms are manageable and there is no big concern or visible deformity in the finger, you can safely try taping the finger at home.

  • How to Buddy Tape

    Here is a quick run-through of the process required for buddy taping a finger.

  1. Find some tape to apply to the fingers. Ideally, medical cloth tape (often found in a first aid kid) is used. Other options may include athletic tape or even kinesiotape. 
  2. Cut the tape so that it will wrap around the fingers approximately 1.5 times. If you need to, you can split the tape as well to make it narrower. 
  3. Tape above and below the injured finger joint and one of the neighboring fingers. This will allow both fingers to still bend and extend for simple moves like gripping. Yet, it will limit more complex moves that might cause aggravation. 
  4. Monitor your symptoms, circulation (make sure the tape isn’t too tight), and skin integrity to minimize complications.
  • Tips

    Here are some quick tips for using the buddy tape technique to your advantage:

  • Don’t completely limit function of the finger joints. You should still be able to bend your fingers and grip items. 
  • Try not to get the tape wet to avoid skin irritation. Replace the tape as needed.
  • Remove the tape and give the skin time to breath as needed to prevent irritation.
  • When removing the tape, pull gently (NOT like a bandaid) to preserve skin integrity
  • Do not pull on the tape as you wrap it around the fingers, as this can compromise circulation. Simply lie it flat on the skin as you wrap it around.
  • You might combine this technique with splinting (see below) if your sprain is more serious and painful.
  • Buddy taping may also be useful with a mild broken finger that is stable

Splinting

Splints are a more restrictive option that are most beneficial for moderate (or potentially even severe) cases of a finger sprain. Learn more about finger splinting here.

  • When to Splint

    Splints are meant to completely restrict finger motion to allow more rest and reduce inflammation and pain. Your doctor may prescribe one or you can pick up a standard adjustable one at a pharmacy. Alternatively, if you have a specific finger dysfunction that needs to be addressed you might be referred to a hand specialist for a custom made splint.

  • How to Splint

    Using a finger splint is pretty straightforward if you keep these steps in mind:

Option one:

  1. Buy a premade splint.
  2. Cut or adjust the metal wings to fit your finger
  3. Keep the finger splint on as prescribed by your doctor or as needed (this varies with your needs and injury)

Option two:

  1. Find a stiff object for splinting the finger, such as a popsicle stick or tongue depressor.
  2. Locate some medical tape to secure the splint to the injured finger.
  3. Place the stick against the entire finger (especially across the sprained joint) and secure it with 2 to 3 strips of tape. Typically placement on the palm side is recommended but it's ultimately up to you.
  • How to Splint Effectively

    How often you will need to wear your splint depends on the extent of damage to your finger. With moderate injuries, 5-7 days of continuous wear will probably do the trick. However, it may be recommended to take your finger out of the splint for short periods of time throughout the day to maintain skin health and allow gentle finger range of motion to prevent excessive stiffness.

    The balance of rest and movement is a delicate one, so you can work with a physical therapist or pay close attention to your symptoms as a guide. For moderate sprains, try taking your splint off at least 3 times per day for 10-20 minutes. For more severe sprains, you may keep it on continuously (even for sleep) if instability is a concern. With time, you may find you only need to wear the splint with more advanced movements of the hand and then transition to no use at all within 3-6 weeks.

Splinting and Taping Complications

Anytime movement is restricted at a joint, there is a risk of excessive stiffness and loss of strength and coordination. Additionally, splints or tape can leave the skin feeling vulnerable, so keep an eye out for sores from excessive pressure, poor circulation due to too tight of taping, or even infection if it is left unmanaged.

If you don’t start to notice positive improvements in symptoms in 1-2 weeks, consider discussing your options with your doctor. You may need a round of physical therapy or have other injuries ruled out like a finger fracture with further assessment.

If your fingers are feeling stiff or weak, try a few finger exercises to keep them working right.

Supporting a Sprained Finger Safely

Finger splinting and buddy taping are great solutions for supporting a healing finger injury. As long as you pay attention to your skin health, your symptoms should gradually improve with time until you can start returning to some form of normal hand and finger function. If you are unsure during the healing process or experience an aggravation of symptoms, you should talk to your doctor as soon as possible to prevent complications.

Sources:

https://www.verywellhealth.com/how-to-buddy-tape-a-finger-1298212

https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/320450

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Jaydee Vykoukal, PT, DPT
Jaydee Vykoukal, PT, DPT

JayDee Vykoukal is a Doctor of Physical Therapy, owner of the healthy habit platform Health Means Wealth, and freelance medical writer. She loves traveling and spending time with her family in nature. Her passion is helping others continue to participate in the activities they love through education and proper exercise.



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