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Sprained Finger Overview

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

Sprained Finger

Have you ever experienced a sprained finger or other hand injury? Everyday life comes with inevitable accidents, either while playing sports, getting work done, or enjoying other favorite activities. Having the right knowledge about finger sprains will give you the insight you need to keep your fingers moving without pain or disability. Take a look at this guide, which covers the top causes, symptoms, and treatments for finger sprains.

What is a Sprained Finger?

A sprained finger is an injury that occurs when excessive pressure is placed on the finger, causing one or more of its joints to move outside of its normal range of motion.  Most often, a finger is sprained in the direction of extension. This causes the joints and ligaments to stretch (or possibly tear), leading to a variety of symptoms and complications. Sprained fingertips are common for athletes involved in sports with high impact which often put strain on the hands.


A finger sprain is defined as primary tissue damage to the joint’s ligaments (the tissues that connect bone to bone and provide stability). Additionally, depending on the severity and amount of pressure or trauma sustained, finger injuries can also affect the joint capsules, cartilage, and other surrounding tissues.

Sprained fingers are categorized into three groups, depending on the degree of damage and stretch to the ligaments. Find the details on each degree below.

  • First-Degree Sprained Finger

    A first-degree sprained finger is considered mild. Ligaments are stretched somewhat beyond their limitation, but not torn. Patients may experience swelling and pain that limit finger range of motion temporarily.

  • Second-Degree Sprained Finger

    A second-degree sprain is considered moderate. Ligaments are stretched further outside their normal range. This results in more damage to the finger’s connective tissue that will require more time for healing. It may also compromise joint stability due to damage to the joint capsules. Pain and swelling will be more intense than with a first-degree sprain.

  • Third-Degree Sprained Finger

    A third-degree finger ligament sprain is the most severe and requires immediate medical care. It is linked with a subluxation (partial dislocation) of the finger. This type of injury typically indicates a full rupture of the ligament and is sometimes accompanied by an avulsion fracture due the force of the tear. It will lead to significant instability in the finger that limits function.

Causes of a Sprained Finger

Sprained fingers are usually caused by hyperextending the finger, resulting in damage to the surrounding ligaments and joints. However, the finger can sustain a sprain injury in any direction, such as with overflexion, jamming, or a sideways force to the joints. The direction of the force will determine which connective tissue is primarily affected. Activities that put your at risk for a finger sprain include:

  • Ball sports such as basketball, volleyball, and baseball
  • High impact sports such as gymnastics or ball sports
  • Any type of impact to the end of the finger
  • Breaking a fall with your hand
  • Hitting your finger at an awkward angle with everyday activities, such as opening a door or reaching for something on a counter

Finger Sprain Symptoms

Since a finger sprain is a result of direct impact, you will quickly recognize symptoms if they are present. Knowing what to expect can give you an idea of what treatment you should use for healing and how the recovery process will progress. Here are the symptoms of a finger sprain to watch out for:

  • Pain around the injured finger (severity will depend on the degree)
  • Swelling and stiffness that can get worse with movement
  • A significant decrease in range of motion
  • Feeling of tenderness on the injured finger particularly at the affected joint
  • Pain and discomfort when using the injured finger
  • Instability and discoloration of the full finger (with grade 3)
  • A partial or full dislocation of the finger

Having a full understanding of these symptoms is the best way to get a head start on treatment.

Diagnosing a Sprained Finger

Typically, a first and second-degree sprain will heal on its own with minimal medical intervention.  However, there are a few cases where a sprained finger will cause stiffness and swelling that can persist for several months after the injury. If you are suffering from persistent finger sprain symptoms, inform your doctor to ensure there are no other complications such as a bone fracture, a sprained wrist, or thumb arthritis.

Your doctor will conduct a comprehensive physical examination to confirm the signs of a sprained finger. An X-ray, MRI, or CT scan may be recommended to help you rule out more serious injuries and assess overall finger joint integrity.

Estimated Recovery Time

Healing from a first or second-degree sprain will require simple treatment options that promote tissue health while reducing pain, swelling, and restoring finger function. For more information on treatment options for a sprained finger, see our full resource.

Most patients will quickly return to their busy lifestyle after an acute finger injury. If there is no dislocation or fracture, sprained finger healing time usually lasts four to six weeks. Most patients will recover functional use of their hands way before this time. It will simply require thoughtful modifications to your daily activities to prevent re-injury until the finger can fully heal properly. Ask your family doctor or physical therapist when is the right time to begin and progress finger movements.

More severe sprains may require extensive splinting and even surgery. If this occurs, you can expect recovery time to take longer (upwards of 12 weeks) and require more extensive formal treatment with a physical therapist.

What To Do

Education on how to treat a sprained finger is essential to keep your hands at full performance. Mild to moderate finger sprains can be treated safely at home to manage pain and swelling. Follow-up care is only essential if you experience lingering symptoms that affect normal hand function or the injury is more severe. Based on your progress and symptoms, you will know when you are ready to return to your favorite activities.




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

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