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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  • Jonathan

    i played basketball today and i jammed my finger is there a way to make the healing process faster?
    (i know it isn’t serious but i have something important in 2 days that will include using my hand and i want to know if there is a way that i’ll participate)

  • anonymus

    Hi, I was playing with my dog and my finger got caught in his collar(he has a metal choke chain), Now about a month later I still have pain in the top of my finger, right above the first knuckle whenever there is pressure on it, even just pressing my finger together. I can move it very easily, so is it sprained or jammed? And how should I tell my parents what I need to do to treat it?

  • Katie

    Hello. I fell down my steps and jammed my finger into the wall really hard. I wasn’t able to use it for weeks because it was so swollen that it would not function. It is now 2 months later and it isn’t swollen but it is still extremely sore and has hardly any range of motion. it still will not bend very good. I don’t know if I jammed it or possible fractured it? But it hasn’t really gotten any better. Do you have any advice?

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

      Yes. See a doctor.

  • Brandie

    So about two months ago I hit my pinky finger on the sink I was cleaning, and (it happened so fast) I’m not sure if it went completely the opposite direction it was supposed to, or completely sideways (a direction it isn’t supposed to EVER go), but it swelled up at the joint. I’m not sure if I stubbed it, or sprained or what have you, but it made it extremely difficult to bend, grasp things with ease or even pop the nuckle. Yes, I am one of those people who Google ‘ s everything, over analyzes every possible explanation, and assumes the worst. So far, the pain is tolerable, and it’s not as swollen, but definitely not back to normal. I still cannot make a tight fist due to my pinky finger will not close all the way like my other pinky finger does. Is this something I should consider getting checked out? I mean for about two days maybe three I had a make shift splint with a large paper clip and some medical tape on it to keep it from bending, but where I never went to to Dr., I felt a little silly answering questions from coworkers and family as to what happened to my hand. I know it isn’t broken because I can still bend it and it never bruised up like my ankle did when I broke it long ago. I do know something is wrong with it for other than the obvious reasons, but I can accidently hit it on something, or forget about it and try to carry something, and it hurts pretty good still. It does not throb like it did at the beginning, but like I said, it’s been two months, maybe even longer, and I’m still having trouble with it. Any opinions on what to do?

  • Natalya Habersham

    i jammed my finger with a basketball. and it feel / looks like my bone is out of place what should i do ?

  • Erkyy Snoopy

    i jammed my thumb 2 weeks ago at a football game and i iced it and it still hurts and i dont know if i should pull it or let it be it hurts when u move it back

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

      Hopefully you learned from the post, pulling it is usually a bad idea. Sorry, I’ve been off a few weeks. How is it now?

  • Matthew Neville

    I’ve hurt my finger playing football when I was getting tackled…we’ll my parents said it is jammed and I know it’s jammed but I have football practice in like 2 days what is the fastest way to heal it?

  • 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!