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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  • Catz

    I took a fall off my road bike, down hill about 20 mph. fractured humerus, alum, and elbow, which required a plate to be installed. It’s been several months since this accident. I am receiving physical therapy to improve ROM. My question is in relation to the wrist and the knuckles ( all 3 sets) of the left hand. The pain is unbearable and they feel jammed, stuck unable to bend normally, though I am able to spread, wiggle, and bend enough to make the letter C, but no further. I am unable to open anything like jars, packaging, door knobs, or apply pressure as to support weight or carry pots, pans, coffee pot or full glass ( 16oz) of water. The PT physician is doing a fabulous job in manipulating the joints in the past 2 weeks. I have been going x3 weekly. It hurts so bad it’s tearful and seems to get stiff afterwards with constant discomfort and throbbing and shooting pain ( ranging from 3 to 6) degrees of pain. I’m concerned about full ROM after 6 weeks of therapy and needing additional surgery. The wrist was – 27 at the start of therapy, currently -13 downward, not as good backward flexion. I am diligent about home exercises. But the knuckles remain swallow stiff. Pt physician only, is able to bend fingers to the bottom of palm as I nearly faint from the pain. They do seem to be getting slightly better. I’ve only had 6 PT visits. So I’m happy there is at least some improvement. In your professional opinion of impact injury do you think it’s realistic to expect full ROM recovery? Also do you have any suggestions what else I may do at home to aid to increased improvement? I bend and flex as instructed throughout the day everyday to capacity. I am however unable to manipulate wrist and knuckles as PT physician does, it hurts way too bad but I do what it tolerable. Then I apply ice and elevate at bedtime to help decrease swelling and minimize pain. Thanks in advance for your professional feedback.

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

      The physical therapist and doctor could give you a more realistic prediction than I, but you may be a little impatient (easy for me to say, I know.) Much depends on the specific injuries, your age and you specific makeup. In general though, I’ve found that in many cases it just takes diligence and time, often many months. Make sure, from your therapist, that you’re doing your home exercises correctly. Unless you injured the ligaments in your fingers I would expect you should get full rom back. The wrist may be a little iffy. And, having said all that, there’s been many a time I’ve seen the patient prove the therapist wrong just by time and diligence.

  • S M

    I sprained my ring finger on July 10th. Saw a doctor July 11th who immediately sent me to an orthopedic hand specialist. He suggested buddy taping and no splint so that’s what I’ve been doing. He also has me doing epsom salt soaking with a stress ball.

    I sprained my thumb twice in the past and my former hand doctor (now retired) always put me in a hard removable splint and sent me to OT for ultrasound and other hand exercises and treatments. I made a full recovery and regained full range of motion both times.

    My current hand doctor says that he’s not a fan of splinting because leaving the joints too stationary can cause permanent stiffness. I just find this a little odd seeing as my former doctor who retired seems to have disagreed.

    15 days later and I’ve had these buddy taped religiously and I stil have a ton of pain. My range of motion doesn’t seem terrible (it has improved) but the pain level hasn’t when I push down with that finger.

    Is my doctors method of treating this common or should he have used a splint for the times I’m not doing hand exercises?

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

      Both methods usually work and, although the hard splint may work more quickly, there is a risk for permanent limited range of motion. The risk becomes greater with age. But there are different degrees of sprain. Some, with torn ligaments or tendons may require more aggressive splinting. You could always get a second opinion.

  • c.cart

    Line drive hit me square on the throwing hand ring finger. don’t think it’s broken. Very swollen, looks like it’s full of blood, should I pop it? I’d like to be able to play ball tomorrow!

  • Summer Walter

    Last night while making my daughter’s bunk beds, I hit my middle finger some how . I am not even sure exactly how I did it. My husband asked me how on earth I could injure myself making a bed? Anyhow, it was immediate sharp pain and the pain goes through my finger and into my hand and wrist. At the 2nd knuckle, there is a lot of bruising. The bruising actually occurred right after I hurt it. The pain still continues the next day and bruising is persistent. The pain is worse when straightening, although I can straighten it. Also, when straightening, the bruising seems to darken. My husband seems to think I jammed it and wants to pull it, but after reading this article, I am quite skeptical. Hope you can help! Trying to avoid a doctor’s visit!

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

      You may have sprained it. If you can’t straighten it without using your other hand you should have it checked out.

  • lexi

    Well I jammed my middle finger because I was wrestling and I jammed it and its been like that for 3 whole months and didn’t even know but I pull it constantly and try to rub it but doesn’t work so I decided to search and found this website

  • Jon

    I don’t remember any trauma of any kind, but my middle finger started to swell between the 2 large knuckles but could still move freely that was two weeks ago. Then i went golfing and the next day it was even more swollen but still just annoying no pain, went golfing again over the weekend and it was in so much pain over night i couldn’t sleep now there is pain anytime i bend the middle knuckle, I made an appointment to see a hand specialist just wondering weather i should straight splint or buddy splint, and if i should keep flexing it or try to keep it straight?

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

      As a general rule, don’t do anything do make something hurt worse until it is checked to make sure you’re not going to do harm. If the activity doesn’t hurt, it’s probably safe. If a buddy splint seems to ease the pain as well as a straight splint does then fine. If a straight splint works better, that would be the way to go.

  • judith

    I jammed my thumd catching a football and i can barely move it but the resst of the fingerss are ok

  • Chris X.

    I was playing basketball a few weeks ago and jammed my left middle and ring finger pretty bad. it still hurts to bend it a little and i cant bend them al the way. What do i do?

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

      Have it checked out

  • Mackenzie Cossette

    I jammed my pinky finger when I tried to catch a football and I just tried to ignore the pain then it got worse so now it’s swollen on the bottom right by my hand and I can bend it just not all the way and it hurts to move it side to side. I have been icing it with a ice pack it’s only been a day today is the second day tho so what should I do??

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

      Have someone check it.

  • David

    I injured my thumb knuckle over a month ago. I already saw a doctor at urgent care and after the X-Ray he indicated that it was not broken. He gave me a thumb splint and gave me narco’s which seemed over kill. I have iced it, taken 800 mg ibuprofen twice a day, and tried to keep a splint on it as often as possible, but the swelling gets irritated by the splint. It feels somewhat better, but it is still swollen and I cannot bend it at the knuckle without using my other hand to do so. There is no pain to hold the thumb upward, but if I bend down it hurts quite a bit. I took the X-Rays to an orthopedic surgeon who did not have an appointment but agreed to review them just to give a second opinion about whether there was a fracture or not. He concurred that it was not broken. Unfortunately he could not see me because he was booked up, but at least it’s not broken or fractured. Should I pay to see a hand specialist, or modify my treatment and be more patient?

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

      There’s a lot more that can be injured besides bone. Why not have your regular doctor or an urgent care center check it? Or you could see a hand specialist although many may not see you without a referral from a primary care doc, PA, or NP.

      • David

        First off thanks for the quick response!!! I did and they said that it is an injured tendon(s), but I am already over a month, and the swelling is no better. That is the reason I am concerned. Doctors visits are expensive with high deductible plans and I was just wanting to see if I need to be more patient and/or modify my treatment, or if it’s more serious and I need to go see another doctor.