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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  • 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.

  • brynna

    I recently sprained my finger pretty badly during basketball practice and it’s very bruised and somewhat swelled and we have our tournaments in a matter of three days, do you think If I wore a brace I would be able to play ?

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

      That would be up to your parents and coach. However, it’s not unusual to sprain a finger in basketball and play with a buddy splint.

  • Darren

    Great info! Thank you! I am a 48 year-old male-Jammed my finger playing basketball Friday. X-ray at urgent care clinic Saturday morning. No break. Splinted. I could bend it fine immediately after it happened but the next morning is swelled up and I have not been able to bend the top since. The swelling has gone down some and the pain is minimal unless I hit it on something. The tip feels tingly when I touch it. How long should I wait until seeing a hand surgeon and how long should I keep it splinted? Thanks

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

      Good question on the splint, but you should call and ask the clinic since they know your specific injury. In general, for a sprained finger–no break–a few days in a buddy splint (taping it to an adjacent, uninjured finger–is all it needs. However the joint may be slightly tender and swollen for weeks. And, if you place basketball, buddy tape it for a few weeks. But, again, I’d ask the doctor who saw you for your specifics.

  • Audra

    I honestly have no idea what I did to my pinky finger, but I woke up about 3 weeks ago and my pinky hurt and it was hard to bend it, now in the last week it been swollen. I have taken Ibuprofen and iced it as well as taped it to my ring finger, any idea if this could be a jammed finger? The swelling has finally calmed down a bit but it still hurts when I bend it. And its the second knuckle not the first one one any thing would help. Thank you. Also how long should this take to heal?

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

      Sounds like you’re doing all you can. But, if the swelling, pain, and stiffness aren’t going away, you may need to have it checked out and xrayed

  • Steve

    My son jammed his finger in a basketball game. He finished the game and had bruising and swelling immediately after. There is no evidence of anything beyond the bruising and swelling. We put it in a splint and started RICE as soon as we got home from the game. He has another game tomorrow. If he has range of motion and the swelling goes down, should I allow him to play?

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

      Totally up to you and him. Athletes jam their fingers all the time. Most of the time, it’s a sprain. Sometimes its a break.

      • Steve

        Thank you for the quick response Doctor Hubbard. Luckily his game was pushed to Wednesday. He told the coach he would be ready to play.

  • Debra Barkoff

    i woke up about a week ago and my fingers are swollen between my pointer and middle finger, you can see it on the knuckles. in addition to the swelling my pointer finger will get “jammed” or “locked” it hurts and then i will hear a clicking noise and it will un-jam…….any thoughts, suggestions, ideas?

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

      Sounds like a “trigger finger.” If it is, sometimes it’s caused from repetition or an injury. Sometimes trigger fingers get better NSAIDs, rest, and heat. Sometimes they require injections or more. You may need to see a doctor. If it hurts without using it or is getting worse, you need to see one soon.

      • Debra Barkoff

        thank you very much for replying, right now i have my fingers taped like you suggested to another and this is keeping the jamming and clicking from happening. when the ny blizzard is over i will head to the dr

  • Michael Srackangast

    Recently I was playing basketball and jammed my finger….it went numb fo a few minutes and then it got swollen…. What now?

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

      Hope you read the post, and Have someone check it.

  • Austin

    My finger has been swollen for almost 2 months it has gotten alot better but it is still really big, i cant bend it all the way and when i bend it i have mild pain.

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

      You should go to a doctor and have it checked out, maybe x-rayed. I assume it was injured and the swelling is in the joint. With a common sprain or jam, it should be just about well within a week or two.

  • Kyair Richardson

    What if I don’t have anything to splint my finger with

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

      If you don’t have any tape, or a strip of cloth, or any splint material, I guess you’re out of luck.