Our fingers are capable of a wide range of motions, from wielding powerful tools to creating delicate artwork with a fine pencil or paintbrush. What powers these movements is an elaborate network of bones, nerves, tendons and ligaments. All of these work in tandem to create the magic that our fingers are capable of performing. An injury to any finger causes a disruption in the intricate movement mechanism, making it difficult or even impossible for the injured person to perform simple everyday activities such as writing, typing, or dressing.
While finger injuries can come in all sorts of shapes, sizes and severity, a broken finger is the most serious other than amputation. It involves a break in the bone, which requires proper medical treatment and can take longer to heal than a bruise, cut, or sprain. Before looking at how to treat a broken finger, it’s important to be able to determine whether your finger is in fact just badly sprained or is definitely broken. Both of these are distinctly different types of injuries, requiring completely different treatments.
Broken Finger Symptoms
Sharp, excruciating pain is the predominant symptom of a broken finger. The pain usually comes on immediately after the trauma and is hard to ignore. This pain will intensify or remain the same but will not ease off until you’ve received the necessary treatment. Even then, expect it to be a while before the pain reduces or goes away entirely.
The pain is often accompanied by swelling and redness, which can come on about five to ten minutes after the incident. The swelling may be restricted to the broken finger or it may spread and the whole area around it may start to swell. As the swelling continues, the injured finger becomes increasingly more stiff and difficult to move. The swelling and stiffness are in fact protective mechanisms. When you move a broken finger, you could make the fracture worse. By making it difficult to move the finger, the swelling and stiffness keep the fracture from worsening.
Depending on the location of the fracture, the finger may or may not look deformed. It is important to note that all broken fingers do not look conspicuously out of joint. If there is intense pain and swelling after any trauma, it is always advisable to see a doctor, regardless of whether or not there is any noticeable deformity.
How To Treat A Broken Finger
A broken finger needs proper medical treatment. It is not something that can be treated at home. However if you cannot get to a doctor immediately, there are a few things you can do to reduce the pain, stabilise the finger and prevent further damage.
Gently applying an ice pack wrapped in a tea towel over the broken finger for 20 minutes every two to three hours is the best way to keep the swelling under control. If you don’t have an ice pack available, these are a few alternative options that work in a pinch:
- Wrap a few cubes of ice in a thin, clean cloth and rub gently over the swollen area
- Wrap a pack of frozen green peas in a tea towel and place gently over the area
- Dip a clean cloth or towel in ice water and apply it over the area – keep dipping and applying so the cloth stays icy cold
Applying a temporary splint will help to immobilise your finger. This can be important as unnecessary movements can damage the finger even more. Making a temporary finger splint is not too difficult. You need something small and sturdy such as a lolly stick, a pen or pencil. Place this under the injured finger and carefully wrap a gauze or cloth around both. This will prevent your finger from bending or moving.
If you’re suffering with pain, painkillers such as paracetamol should help, but as the NHS advises, do not take ibuprofren, at least until a broken finger has been confirmed.
Medical Treatment For A Broken Finger
After doing a visual examination of the injured finger, the doctor will want to get an X-Ray to pinpoint the exact location of the fracture and the severity of the fracture. Sometimes, one X-Ray may not be enough to show the exact nature of the injury. In that case, you may need to get multiple X-Rays.
The treatment for a broken finger will depend on the X-Ray findings.
If the injury is minor and does not warrant any extensive treatment, the doctor may decide to apply a small splint to protect the injured finger. As said above, this will stabilise the finger and help the break heal faster. Depending on the position and type of broken bone, the doctor may ‘buddy tape’ your fingers. This involves using the adjoining uninjured finger as a splint and taping it together with the injured finger.
If the fracture results in a deformity, where the broken finger is out of position, the doctor will perform a minor procedure to correct or reduce the deformity. This procedure is carried out under local anaesthesia. The anaesthetic is introduced via an injection into the small nerves at the base of the injured finger. Anaesthetising the area allows the doctor to manipulate the fracture and get the finger back into position.
Surgery may be required only if the deformity cannot be corrected through manipulation or if the fracture is unstable. The main aim of operating on a broken finger is to realign the broken bones and hold the fragments in place. This often involves using pins, screws, and plates.
Sometimes, a doctor may apply a cast that goes up to your elbow. Though this may seem extreme for a broken finger, it isn’t. Using an extended cast that extends from the fingers to your elbow is the best way to stabilise a serious fracture and help the injury heal faster.
Treating A Broken Finger – Two Important Points To Keep In Mind
- Aftercare is crucial to helping your broken finger heal properly. This is regardless of whether or not it required surgical intervention. Using the finger too soon after the treatment will cause even more damage, which will require even more time to heal.
- Don’t try to treat a broken finger at home. The first and most important step in treating any broken bone injury is to see a doctor and get an X-Ray carried out to identify the type and severity of the break. You run the high risk of causing further damage to your finger if you try and treat your broken finger at home without getting an X-Ray.
If your broken finger has been caused by somebody else’s carelessness or negligence, you may like to refer to our page on finger injury claims as you may be eligible to claim compensation.
Disclaimer: Our solicitors process finger injury claims for our clients, which means they are legally trained but not necessarily medically trained. As such, this content should not be taken as a substitute for the advice of a medical professional. If you suspect you may have a broken finger and need help or advice you can call the National Health Service on 111. If it’s an emergency situation call 999.