Jammed Finger: How to Treat

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This survival-medicine website provides general information, not individual advice. Most scenarios assume the victim cannot get expert medical help. Please see the disclaimer.

(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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  • 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.

  • Zeke Gallegos

    i hurt my finger… its in alot of pain and i cant move it all the way down or up… its my thumb so i cant buddy heal it and its sweeling up and turning purple… what do i do?

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

      Have it checked out to make sure it’s not broken. You can tape your thumb to your hand–same as a buddy splint but your buddy is your hand. Or you could splint it with something like a popsickle stick, or you can buy a thumb splint at most any pharmacy.

  • Trinity Powell

    A girl in basketball hit my finger, and I heard it pop. Its very stiff, and I cant move it at all. What do I do?

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

      Have a trainer or other health care worker check it. Consider taping it to the other finger (buddy splint) meantime.

  • Kristi

    My daughter jammed her thumb last night during a high school soccer game. She is the goalie. She went to the hospital to have it checked. It’s not broken. She still has some swelling and pain. If she wears a thumb brace do you think it would be okay for her to do a light practice tonight (field only no goalie) with her team?

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

      You should check with whoever saw her and her trainer but, in general, wearing a brace should protect it from further injury

  • 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.

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