Jammed Finger: How to Treat

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(Don’t) Pull My Finger: How Jerking a Jammed Joint Makes Things Worse

buddy splint for a finger jam

For a finger jam, you can create a “buddy splint” by taping the jammed finger to the one next to it. I like to tape it with a curve to make the hand easier to use.

by James Hubbard, M.D., M.P.H.

I played a lot of football and basketball growing up. It was fairly common for the ball to hit someone’s finger kind of head-on on the tip while the finger was straight. We called it a jammed finger.  Invariably someone would try to unjam it for us. They’d catch hold and pull with a jerk as hard as they could.

I still see it in the office. Grown men and women pulling on their jammed fingers after injuring them on a home project. It’s bound to happen in disasters.

The problem is, a jammed finger is usually a sprain. Sometimes there’s a broken bone, or a torn tendon or ligament. Pulling on it is not going to help. It only causes needless pain and can damage the joint further. Even if it’s truly dislocated, pulling the finger with a jerk to unjam it is never the treatment.

Just like ankles, knees, and other joints, finger joints have tendons and ligaments. They get sprained, even torn, and, like other injured joints, swell up. Also like other injured joints, with fingers, it’s hard to tell a serious injury from one that’s not so serious. That’s why you’ll need medical assistance and possible X-rays. But if you’re stuck, in a disaster, or out in the middle of nowhere, here’s

How to Treat a Jammed Finger When You Can’t Get Medical Help

Avulsion Fracture

When you jam a finger, sometimes the force of the trauma pulls the tendon attachment away from the bone. This can only be diagnosed with an X-ray. The treatment is splinting for four to six weeks.

Splint it. Any finger injury is eventually going to need splinting. You can tape a metal strip or a stick to the bones adjacent to the sprained finger joint. Popsicle sticks are popular for this. Many times you can just tape the jammed finger to an uninjured one. We call that a buddy splint. You can tell if it feels stable enough with this.

Unless it’s one of the specific injuries I’ll tell you about in a future post, I like to splint a sprained finger with a little bend in the joint. It’s easier to use the rest of the hand that way.

Keep the finger splinted until the pain has left. That takes anywhere from a week to a month.

In the next post I’ll give you tips to help you tell if a jammed finger is more than a sprain and why you might actually need to pull, gently.

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  • Sally

    I tripped and lots of weight was on my pinky finger i put ice on it but it was still very swelled up, hurts when i straighten it and less when i make a fist it hurts more near my knuckle joint and the bottom of the finger.

    • http://thesurvivaldoctor.com/ James Hubbard, MD, MPH

      Might need to be x-rayed

  • Javi

    Well I jammed my pinky about 2 months ago and slight swelling remains… slight pain as well should I get this checked out? Never got purple or blue, just swelled up and was sore, still is actually.

    • http://thesurvivaldoctor.com/ James Hubbard, MD, MPH

      Sounds like you might need to get it checked out especially if there is any problem with bending or straightening it. And over-the-counter NSAID like ibuprofen or naproxen (Aleve) might help also if you have no medical reason not to try it.

  • Pingback: How To Play Soccer With A Jammed Toe Or Broken | Soccer Training Pro

  • dans

    what to do with a thumb that was jammed a while back and is now weaker and sometimes painful when catching a football/basketball/rugby or even some normal daily routines

    • http://thesurvivaldoctor.com/ James Hubbard, MD, MPH

      See a doctor to make sure tendons weren’t torn. Sometimes getting a rubber ball and squeezing anywhere from 10 to 100 times a day could help, as long as you make sure you involve the thumb in the squeezing.

  • Ariana

    Yesterday I had a volleyball game.. And before the game wee were practicing and I dove down for the ball and I jammed my finger.. I’m pretty sure it jammed into the floor.. I’m also pretty sure I made it worse by trying to pop it back out. That’s what I always do since I play basketball too and always get my fingers jammed.. But it swelled quite a bit and I put ice on it and elevated it.. I think the swelling has gone down a bit but now the inside is turning purple..DShould I be worried?

    • http://thesurvivaldoctor.com/ James Hubbard, MD, MPH

      Sounds like you’ve had a lot of these better. If this one is worse, you should consider having it checked out.

  • Moziah

    Jammed my index finger at football practice two weeks ago, I fell on it putting a lot of weight on it. The swelling has gone down but the pain is still there, it’s not as bad as when it first happened but I can’t make a full fist. Also the side of my knuckle kinda pokes out I think that is the swelling. I know you can’t tell me what’s wrong but should I ask my parents to take me to the doctor or what’s next?

    • http://thesurvivaldoctor.com/ James Hubbard, MD, MPH

      I would have your parents look at it and help you make that decision. Perhaps they’ve seen or had this type of injury and can give you some insight. Also your coach or trainer could probably help you decide. Sprains take several weeks to heal, they swell, and are painful, but so are breaks.

  • Nathan

    Yesterday I was playing tackle football and my ring finger got stuck in somebody else’s facemask, and my finger got yanked down. I feel sharp pain as I move my ring finger up and down, and the pain is coming from my lower knuckle. It’s nearly impossible to move my finger, so should I see a doctor, or treat it at home?

    • http://thesurvivaldoctor.com/ James Hubbard, MD, MPH

      That’s up to you. Perhaps have a parent or trainer check it to help you decide. Finger joints are often sprained in sports. A week or two of buddy splinting takes care of it. But, sometimes fingers can be broken in the same sort of injury. So, it’s a judgement call. A direct exam helps. And, of course, only an x-ray can really tell. The difference in treatment would probably be using a hard metal splint for 6 weeks or so and probably no contact sports for a while.

  • Dre Bank$

    i hurt my hand playing basketball going for a steal and my finger bent to far i felt nor heard anything break but now the middle knuckle on my index finger i swollen do you think its jammed or sprained ive been icing it for all last night and all day today but the swelling has yet to go down

    • http://thesurvivaldoctor.com/ James Hubbard, MD, MPH

      I can’t diagnose an individual case without an exam. You should let someone check it.

  • Shannon Brown

    Yesterday I was at volleyball practice and when I set the ball, I don’t really know what happened, I think I jammed my thumb or bent the wrong way. Now it really hurts any time I move it and I’m not sure if I should see a doctor or just ice it and rest it.

  • cassi

    I jammed my finger about a week ago and i still can’t bend it all the way and it still hurts a little and is still bruise. does it mean i broke something?

    • http://thesurvivaldoctor.com/ James Hubbard, MD, MPH

      Just like any sprain, jammed fingers can take a few weeks to heal. So, really, the only way you could tell if it’s broken is get an x-ray.