Broken or Dislocated Finger: When It's More Than a Sprain

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(Do) Pull My Finger: How to Treat a Dislocated Digit

X-ray of a dislocated finger

X-ray of a dislocated finger.

by James Hubbard, M.D., M.P.H.

You’re picking up debris and swing your hand around. A finger hits a board, hard. Ouch. You look at your finger and it’s crooked. Not a little. A lot. You can’t move the joint.

Even if you can’t get to a medical facility, there’s no need to panic. Instead, recognize the type of injury and treat accordingly.

If your finger’s truly distorted—and usually there’s no doubt—then you’ve broken it or dislocated a joint.


How to Treat a Dislocated Finger If You Can’t Get Expert Help

If you have a dislocated finger, you’re going to see more than just joint swelling. The end of one bone will be lying on top of the end of the other. You won’t be able to move that joint.

If you can’t get medical help, grab the fingertip firmly. You may need some cloth or a rubber glove so you can get a good hold. Pull firmly and continuously. Pull harder and harder, but never jerk. You’re trying to stretch the tendons just enough that the ends separate. If they do, the tips will slip right back into place. After that, splint the finger for six weeks.


How to Treat a Broken Finger If You Can’t Get Expert Help

A dislocation will always be at the joint, but a break can occur anywhere along the finger. If the digit is decidedly crooked and you can’t get to a doctor, you may have to pull to straighten it, like you would for a dislocated finger. Splint it for six weeks. Include the adjacent joints in the splint. (Learn more about splinting in this post about jammed fingers.)

Often, a swollen finger can fool you.The swelling distorts the finger just enough that you think it’s crooked. So look closely since pulling on it causes unnecessary pain.

 

Important note: Either of these finger injuries can cause ligament and tendon damage, which can affect permanent finger function. See a doctor as soon as you can.

In the next posts I’ll write about finger-joint injuries that require a little more-specific splinting, like mallet and boutonniere deformities.


Photo by Hellerhoff, via Wikimedia Commons.

  • Jordan

    I dislocated my left ring finger just over 3 weeks ago, I was just wondering how likely is it that the finger will dislocate again?

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

      Jordan, in general, unless you completely tore ligaments and the finger is unstable, the finger shouldn’t be much more likely to dislocate than an uninjured one. Of course, it needs time to heal, with a splint or buddy splint.

  • belinda

    Hi! I dislocated my finger in the middle joint . Immediately was able to relocate it . Im able to bend it half way . Its been a week . Will I regain the ability to make a fist including that finger ? . Its tender but not painful . .

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

      If you didn’t injure the ligament too bad it should heal in a few weeks. It should be getting slowly better, but will take several weeks to get back to normal If you have concerns, you should have a doctor check it, but one week is not long enough to expect, even a sprain, to heal.

  • TONYBROWN

    I have discolated my middle finger several times have not seek any treatment they hurts at time in been years since i discolate my fingers can i still seek medical atention.

  • http://mattdavisortho.com Matt

    I recently came across your website and find your articles very helpful for lay people. As an orthopedic surgeon who sees a fair amount of hand injuries I have to caution you on one aspect of this particular post – How to Treat A Dislocated Finger. Gentle longitudinal traction of a dislocated DIP or PIP joint is fine to do as this is generally safe and effective. A dislocated MCP joint, however, should never be pulled on longitudinally. Most MCP joint dislocations involve avulsion of the volar plate proximally. Longitudinal traction can allow the volar plate to get stuck between the distal end of the metacarpal and the proximal end of the proximal phalanx, converting a simple dislocation – one that can be reduced in a closed fashion – into a complex dislocation – one that requires an open surgical procedure to extract the interposed volar plate.
    Take Away: If the finger itself is crooked you can pull on it to straighten it out. If it is crooked where the finger attaches to the hand, DO NOT PULL ON THIS. Leave it as it until you seen someone that knows what they are doing.

    • Terri

      I dislocated two of my fingers a little over a month ago- one popping out, requiring stitches- they had me see a hand specialist who told me to not wrap them in any kind of way, but, to keep them loose with just a bandaid over the stitches. I had been trying to secure them in a straight manner with medical tape and a flat stick prior to the specialist telling me this. After a couple of days of not securing them (just wrapping them with socks and ace bandage at night so I would protect them from injury), they started bending inward- feeling almost like they were in a cramp, and locked up this way- slightly bent. It doesn’t feel right, and I’m afraid now that I’ll never be able to straighten them. I trusted what he told me. Now what do I do?

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

        Terri, please see your comment at “Do Pull My Finger” for my reply.

    • http://www.thesurvivaldoctor.com James Hubbard, M.D., M.P.H.

      Dr. Matt, what would you advise for someone to do with an MCP dislocation if it’s going to be days to forever to see a doctor? Splint it and leave it alone or try to reduce it in some other way?

      • http://www.119orthopedics.com Matt

        If the finger is not numb and has decent blood flow, indicated by a pink tip and nailbed, it is probably best to splint it in place.
        The technique to reduce the joint is to hyperextend the joint, compress the joint (not distraction by pulling), and then slowly flex the joint. The goal is to keep the soft tissue on the palm side of the joint from getting caught in the joint. Pulling lengthwise is probably the worst thing to do as this will pull that tissue into the joint.
        I will look over some of your other articles when I can.

    • http://www.thesurvivaldoctor.com James Hubbard, M.D., M.P.H.

      Thanks so much, Dr. Matt. Great advice which I will head. I have a few other orthopedic posts. They’re under “Survival Topics,” then click on bone and joint. And a few under “Videos.” Please, I welcome you comments/critique on those, also.

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