How to Remove a Ring From a Swollen Finger

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Video: When Your Finger Swells Over Your Wedding Ring: What to Do

by James Hubbard, MD, MPH

One of the first things I do when I see someone with an injured hand or finger is remove any rings. You’d think the person would have already done this, but sometimes it’s hard to think straight when you have an injury. Also, many are afraid it’s going to hurt (it can), and some think the finger has already swollen too much (sometimes it has).

Neat Trick! When Your Finger Swells Over Your Wedding Ring: What to Do | The Survival DoctorBut the thing is, with a badly swollen finger, the ring acts like a tourniquet, cutting off the blood supply, and you could end up losing your digit. What to do?

If you’re in a situation where you can’t get to a doctor, you probably won’t have a ring cutter, but you might have an oily substance or some strong string or tape. So, here are two nifty tricks for how to remove a ring from a swollen finger:

  1. Use soap and water, or any type of oil, to slip the ring off. It’s amazing how well this works.
  2. Wrap strong string (like dental floss), ribbon-like material (like umbilical tape*), or narrow strips of duct tape around the finger to push the swelling toward the fingertip. Tuck one end of the string under the ring, and pull that end up to help you slide the ring off. I show you how to do this in my video above.

If you happen to have a ring cutter*, great! I’ve never had a ring I couldn’t cut off with this.

The last option is to cut the ring off with a hacksaw, but be very, very careful.

Now, some people are just not going to be able to remove the ring. Good luck that the swelling doesn’t get bad enough to cut off the circulation. I remember reading about a Marine who opted to have his injured finger cut off rather than cut off his wedding ring.

If you don’t get the ring off, try this to reduce the swelling:

  • Use ice packs, five –10 minutes on, 10 minutes off. (Wrap the ice pack with a cloth so it’s not touching your bare skin.)
  • Keep the injured area at heart level or above.

Treat any infection with antibiotics since infection can cause swelling.

Have you ever had a swollen finger with a ring you couldn’t remove? What did you do?

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Photo: Flickr/snowpeak.

  • Eva

    Thank you kindly- I tried oil, icing my finger, soap. Then, I watched you calmly use duck tape. I used gauze instead. The trick is to keep turning the guaze or tape. You may have to rewrap the finger as the ring begins to move up towards the knuckle. Don’t be alarmed if your finger begins to turn purple- just keep going til its completely off! Ahhh what a relief! God bless you!

    • James Hubbard, MD, MPH

      Thanks for the tips, Eva.

  • Brandon

    My wife just used your duct tape technique and it worked! Thank you for putting this video up! I thought we were destined for the ER for sure!

    • James Hubbard, MD, MPH

      Great to hear. Thanks for letting me know.

  • Bayou_Disqus

    Thank you so much!
    My wife couldn’t get her 2 rings off of her swollen finger with ice or soap. This trick with the duct tape really works!

    • James Hubbard, MD, MPH

      Great to hear

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  • Rosalyn Shaoul

    Thank you Dr. Hubbard. i was about to go to the Urgent Care Medical Office when I thought to google “ring finger swollen” first. Your video came up and. with my husband”s help. we used duct tape to pull the ring off. It was a panful process, but we did it! I don’t know what caused the finger to swell for the past 2 days, but i could see that the swelling was increasing steadily. i hadn’t worn a ring for many, many years but got one for my 50th wedding anniversary 4 mos. ago. it was not tight when i got it, but it seems that the ring may have caused the swelling since it is now only 30 minutes since we pulled it off, but the swelling is already going down. i really appreciate your effective and useful advice. Thank you so much!

    • James Hubbard, MD, MPH

      Great. I’m glad it worked.

  • Steve

    This trick with the duct tape worked perfectly. Thank you Dr.

    • James Hubbard, MD, MPH

      Great Steve. Thanks for sharing.

  • Grace

    I tried this with dental floss and that didn’t work, then I tried with duck tape like in this video and that wouldn’t work either unfortunately. I think my finger was too swollen as this ring was very small and I have no idea how I got it on my finger in the first place. I ended up having to cut it off with some pliers from my dad’a toolbox and my sister helped me. It took a lot of strength and time but worked! :-)

    • James Hubbard, MD, MPH

      Sorry it didn’t work. It doesn’t work every time, of course. But, I’m glad you were able to find a way.

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  • Westie

    Iam now under going chemo..STARTING NEXT WEEK..HELP I CANNOT GET MY RINGS OFF MY RIGHT HAND!! tried olive oil..tried windex..HELP! HOSP WILL NOT LET ME HAVE MY RINGS ON WHILE IN HOSP!! been on heavy anti biotics..swelling up like crazy..any advice would be sooooo appric.

    • James Hubbard, MD, MPH

      If the ring is cutting off circulation, you should have it cut off immediately. If not, then perhaps you could talk to a jeweler about cutting them off in a way that they might be saved.