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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  • 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.

  • brooklyn!!

    This may sound so stupid but my husband was riding a mechanical bull and somehow must have jammed his pinky finger. This was about 5 months ago and he never got it looked at… now the tip of his pinky is shaped funny, and anytime he does physical activities with his hand involved, the pinky gets red and swells up. should we go see a regular PCP or should we see some type of specialist? I haven’t ever broken a bone so I have no idea

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

      Either way. If you have a family doctor, I’d start there. If you’ve seen an orthopedist before, you could call. Either will start by getting an x-ray.

      • brooklyn!!

        Okay thanks! I just didn’t want to waste our time at a PCP because I didn’t know if they handles those types of things.

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

          Some would, some won’t. I’d call first to see.

  • Bailey Wedgeworth

    Today someone kicked me very hard in the toe during soccer dead on. The pain was unbearable and my toe is so swollen you can see it through my shoe. It is also very stiff and purple, should I get it checked out?

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


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

        Meantime, I would’t play soccer.

  • Sarah

    About four weeks ago I jammed my ring finger catching a ball. It swelled up and there was bruising for a few days. I can bend it fine, but it still hurts a bit and my knuckle is still so big I can’t put my ring over the knuckle. Could my knuckle be out of joint, or does it just take this long for swelling to go down? I’ve been using my hand for normal activity, so maybe I’m just irritating it and it isn’t completely healing. Do you think it is necessary to get the doctor to xray it or should I just be patient? Thanks for your help!

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

      If you bend your finger, it’s not dislocated. Sprains (and breaks) of a finger joint cause swelling. Usually the swelling goes down but not always back to pre-injury size. If you think you’re irritating it, try a buddy splint. If you have concerns, check with a doctor or other healthcare provider.

  • alana

    Hi there i recently jammed my finger very badly at work between a metal cupboard and metal fridge door, i had it x-ray its not broken or fractured but it has been very numb i lost feeling in it completely and it was extremely painful.. its been a few days and the pain has mostly gone away, though it seems to have lost feeling in it i can bend it now but its still numb and there is no feeling in it, is this nerve damage? will it repair its self?

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

      In general, a bruised nerve (as opposed to a cut nerve) will repair itself in a few weeks.

  • Vic

    To start off I jammed my left hand thumb 3x in one basketball game 4 days ago I had pain but I knew it would go away. Two days ago I was playing catch with a friend and I thought I could grab the football out the air with one hand. At first I almost did so the second time I went harder and stronger so when I jammed my right hand thumb even worse. I can’t move it right without pain and I can grab anything if I do it’s a weak grasp. The only time I don’t feel discomfort is when it’s straight. I was going to pull on it and tried I felt where it was out of place but don’t know how to fix it. The area is the inside part of the thumb.

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

      Vic, sounds like you should get it checked and, possibly, X-rayed.

  • Jimmy

    Hey, i have had jammed pinky for a while and i cought it playing soccer as a goalkeeper. As of now i can move my finger and its all good It used to get stuck over night and i could not make a fist with it but now i can sort of fully close it however i the huge ball on my nuckle is not gone and it looks swollen. someone told me to go get it drained? or should i just splint it?

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

      Jimmy, since I can’t directly examine it, I can’t tell you what it is. But, if I were you, I’d see a doctor. If it needs draining, the doctor could do it under sterile conditions with less risk of it getting infected.

  • hunter

    I dislocated my thumb about 7 weeks ago it was supposed to take 6 weeks to heal but it hasn’t and I just hurt it playing basketball and its really swolen should I be worried?

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

      You should have it rechecked soon.

  • George

    Hi, I jammed my pinky finger playing basketball 3 months ago. It pretty much healed than started to hurt a little again. Later I was in some very cold weather and my finger felt numb, as I got warmer it started hurting and now 3 weeks later there has been no improvement. The pain is in the middle knuckle of my pinky and when I move the joint up, down or push my finger to curl it up there is a clicking sound. What do you recommend I do?

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

      George, have a doctor check it out. Meantime you could try some otc ibuprofen, if you can take ok. Even if it helps, have a doctor check it out.