Identifying and treating a dislocated finger is not easy. If you have ever had to remove your own finger from its socket, then you are familiar with the pain involved in doing so. A dislocated finger is usually caused when the bone (or bones) that make up the digit break off or slip out of position during normal use. Sometimes it occurs after trauma such as falling down stairs or getting hit by a car. Other times it may occur due to a medical condition like diabetes or arthritis.
In most cases, the only way to prevent a dislocated finger from becoming infected is to take care of it immediately after the injury occurs. Once you have treated the wound properly, you will need to keep it clean and dry until it heals completely. You can do this by applying ice packs, wrapping bandages around the affected area, using sterile gauze pads and other methods.
Dislocated fingers can become infected if they are left untreated. Infection can result in severe pain, swelling and infection. The best thing you can do to avoid these complications is to get it right away!
What Causes a Dislocated Finger?
The main cause of a dislocated finger is the force of gravity pulling the finger toward the palm. The finger gets “locked” into place by the bone, which prevents the finger from straightening out. Because the bone is pulled downward, the surrounding muscles, tendons and other soft tissues stretch out of position, leading to pain and injury.
A dislocated finger can be caused by:
A fall on an outstretched hand
High-energy sports such as riding a motorcycle or playing football
Getting struck by a heavy object
Getting your finger caught in a door or between two rocks while climbing
Tugging on a shirt that has gotten stuck on your finger
Mistakenly believing that you can pull off a ring that is too tight (This causes the bone to get pulled downward)
A medical condition that causes weakened bones, such as osteoporosis
Treating Dislocated Fingers
During the first few hours after a dislocated finger has occurred, it is important to immobilize the digit to prevent any further damage from occurring. If you can move the joints in the finger even a little bit, the bone fragments will not have adequate time to heal and could become permanently misaligned. Immobilizing the finger can be achieved in several different ways.
One option is to use a splint or other rigid support that holds the finger in a fixed position. The supports that are available today are flexible enough that you can still move the joints within the splint, allowing you to perform basic actions such as eating, drinking and using the bathroom.
Another option is to use a simple sling to hold the finger in a fixed position. This can be more comfortable than a rigid support, but it will require you to remove the sling every time you need to perform basic actions.
You may also want to speak with your doctor about other methods for immobilizing a dislocated finger, such as taping it to adjacent fingers or using a temporary cast.
After the finger has been immobilized, you will still need to protect it from infection and further injury. If you are using a rigid splint, you should be able to wear this for one to two weeks.
If you are using a sling, you will need to keep the injured area elevated as much as possible for at least a week. For example, you can raise the arm of a chair so that your wrist is level with the seat, allowing the finger to hang down without touching the chair.
You should also keep the injured hand out of direct contact with bedding and other objects as much as possible. If you feel pain or throbbing in the finger after you have put it to “sleep” at night, you should elevate the arm of the chair so that the back of your hand is level with the seat. This can prevent painful movement of the finger while you are sleeping.
Problems Associated With Dislocated Fingers
If you have a dislocated finger and don’t get it treated by a medical professional, you may experience some long-term complications. These issues can become painful and may prevent you from moving the joints in the finger as much as you otherwise would.
The skin that covers your finger might become swollen and stiff, making it difficult to move even after the trauma has been treated. If you have a bone that has been pushed downward, it may begin to rub up against a tendon or another bone, causing an ongoing dull ache or sharp, sudden stabbing pain. If you feel either of these, you will need to see a medical professional.
Severe swelling or a break in the skin can expose the bone and tendon to further infection, potentially causing the digit to turn black and putrefy. If this happens, you will need immediate medical care in order to save your finger.
Premature Arthritis and Other Long-Term Complications
It is possible to suffer from arthritis in a finger that has been dislocated, even if you had the injury treated by a medical professional.
Arthritis is a degenerative condition that can cause severe pain, swelling, decreased range of motion and more. While there are medical treatments available for this condition, they are not always effective and the side effects can be serious.
A dislocated finger can also prevent you from moving other joints in your hand as freely as you should. This can lead to pain, stiffness and reduced dexterity.
While a single dislocation will not cause major problems in most cases, multiple dislocations can result in long-term disability.
How Can I Prevent Dislocated Fingers?
The best way to prevent a dislocated finger is to take steps to avoid injury. It is important to wear protective gear when engaging in potentially dangerous activities, such as contact sports. You can also take steps to prevent falls, such as installing handrails in stairways and keeping hard objects away from stairs.
It is always a good idea to stretch before exercising and to give yourself a break from time to time. Taking breaks can help reduce the risk of “overdoing it” even if you are not actually physically tired. Finally, as strange as it may seem, you can actually prevent a fall by placing furniture near the edge of a stairway, such as at the top of the steps. This can give you something to grab on to when you need it most.
Those who are elderly and have a dislocated finger should make an effort to hire some professional help around the house. There are many chores that can be handled by home care providers or others who will lend a hand. This can potentially keep you from overdoing it and allow you to heal properly.
If you have any questions about a dislocated finger or any other type of injury, please fill out our online form to request a free consultation with one of our physicians to go over your symptoms. We can also answer all of your questions.
Sources & references used in this article:
Fracture–dislocation about the finger joints by RP Calfee, TG Sommerkamp – The Journal of hand surgery, 2009 – Elsevier
Identifying and treating traumatic hand and wrist injuries by M Kavin, FE Liss – Journal of the American Academy of PAs, 2018 – journals.lww.com
Traumatic and spontaneous dislocation of extensor tendon of the long finger by M Ishizuki – The Journal of hand surgery, 1990 – Elsevier
Treatment of proximal interphalangeal dorsal fracture-dislocation injuries with dynamic external fixation: a pins and rubber band system by SJ Ellis, R Cheng, P Prokopis, A Chetboun… – The Journal of hand …, 2007 – Elsevier