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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  • 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.

  • ?

    What if I had jammed my thumb ? How do I treat that ?

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

      Tape it to your hand and index finger or make a splint that goes from your wrist to the tip of your thumb. You can also buy a splint at a pharmacy.

  • ricardo

    I jammed my thumb with a football outside. I can move it, but it stings when I close it all the way.

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

      Ricardo, it happens. I used to do it, more in basketball.

  • Trey

    When it first happened

  • Trey

    Had my index finger and butter finger cut to the bone and have been wrapped up I’m going to physical therapy but it hurts real bad anything I could do to help these joints free up?

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

      Time and physical therapy. For now, elevating them to heart level or above might east the pain a bit.

  • Jordan M.

    I turned around too fast and hit my ring finger on the wall about 3 1/2 weeks ago (haha probably the least cool way to hurt yourself) and it did bruise for about a week so I just thought I hit it too hard. Well, the bruising has gone away but my finger still hurts at the knuckle and it hurts to make a fist. My boyfriend suggested I may have jammed it. I wear a ring on my right hand ring finger so I’ll try it on my left finger every now and then and it won’t go past the knuckle. Any suggestions? Is it worth seeing a doctor for or should I just wait?

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

      If it’s not getting steadily better, you should see a doctor. Or if you cannot fully straighten it out. However bruises and sprains (which is what a jammed finger is) can take several weeks for the symptoms and swelling to go away.

      • Annette

        I was playing and poke the wall my finger jammed so how long get better vety well it sore right now about two weeks

        • Annette

          I can move my finger really good but sore jammed :-(

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

            Annette, In general, it could take a good six weeks, but it should be steadily improving. If you have concerns, you should see a doctor.

  • Chuck

    Dr. Hubbard, I jammed my R index finger about two months ago. I just now went to the doc for xrays He said nothing is broken. The problem I now is that the swelling in the R side of the middle joint still has not gone down. Its just a proruding bump. It only really hurts if my wife accidenlt hols those two fingers and squeezes together, fporgetting about the injury. However i am wondering if it will ever go down. Any advice or could it potentially be a bump for good?

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

      Joint swelling after an injury can take months to go down and is sometimes permanent. The pain almost always goes away but can flare up at times, such as in cold weather. If the doctor examined you and saw the bump and if you have good function of the finger, then all you may be able to do is protect it from getting hit again and give it more time.