Sprained Finger

Overview

What is a sprained finger?

A sprained finger involves torn or stretched soft tissues, such as a ligament, in your finger. These soft tissues connect bones to other bones and supports your joints.

Finger sprains are common. They tend to be caused by sports injuries or trauma (such as a car accident or fall for example).

A sprained finger can be very painful and cause finger stiffness and swelling. You can often treat mild sprains at home. If symptoms persist or worsen, you should seek medical treatment.

Symptoms and Causes

What causes a sprained finger?

Most finger sprains result from injuries. An injury that bends your finger too far backward (hyperextension) or the wrong way can lead to sprained fingers. This type of injury often occurs when playing sports, such as basketball, football or volleyball.

Falling on your hand can also cause a finger sprain. If your ligaments are weak or you have balance or coordination problems, this type of injury can be more likely. Accidents, such as car accidents and work-related injuries, may also lead to sprained fingers.

What are the symptoms of a sprained finger?

The main symptoms of sprained fingers often include:

  • Pain when you try to move your finger joint.
  • Stiffness in your finger.
  • Swelling in your finger joint.
  • Tenderness of your finger joint.

What is the difference between a sprained finger and a broken finger?

Sprained fingers and broken fingers have many of the same symptoms. But broken fingers involve injuries to the bones, while sprained fingers involve soft tissue injuries. Broken fingers tend to cause more pain and need immediate medical treatment.

Diagnosis and Tests

How do healthcare providers diagnose sprained fingers?

To diagnose a sprained finger, your provider examines you and asks about your symptoms. They have you extend and flex your finger to see how well it moves. They also look at and feel your joints for swelling and tenderness.

Your provider may order an X-ray to look for fractures. You usually don’t need imaging tests such as an MRI when a provider suspects a finger sprain, although they may occasionally recommend it.

Your provider may assign a grade based on the severity of your sprain:

  • Grade 1: Your ligament has small tears. Your joint is stable (not likely to move out of alignment).
  • Grade 2: You’ve partially torn your ligament. Your joint shows mild instability (possibility of moving out of alignment).
  • Grade 3: You’ve completely torn your ligament. Your joint shows major instability (likely to move out of alignment).

Sometimes the ligament damage is so severe that it results in a dislocation. This occurs when the finger bones are moved (dislocated) from their original position and your joint is no longer in alignment.

Management and Treatment

Can I treat a sprain at home?

You can often treat a mild sprain at home. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs can help relieve pain. You can also use RICE therapy (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation):

  • Rest: Let your finger rest, if possible. Stop doing the activity that injured it (such as playing basketball) while your finger heals.
  • Ice: Ice the injured area for 15 to 20 minutes at a time, especially within the first 24 hours. Put ice in a towel or plastic bag rather than directly on your skin. Icing the injury can help relieve pain and swelling.
  • Compression: Wrap an elastic compression bandage around the injured joint to support it and reduce swelling. Be sure the wrap is not too tight and is comfortable.
  • Elevation: Elevate your injured hand to minimize swelling, especially within the first 24-72 hours. Keep it elevated overnight, if possible.

How do healthcare providers treat sprained fingers?

If your symptoms don’t improve within 24 to 48 hours of your injury, see your healthcare provider. Treatment for a sprained finger depends on the severity of the sprain. Treatments may include:

  • Buddy taping/support: Your provider tapes your sprained finger to the finger next to it to increase stability or may recommend the use of a supportive wrap such as Coban.
  • Splinting: A plastic splint or finger brace helps keep your finger straight for a period of time to allow for healing.
  • Surgery: Your provider may suggest surgery to repair severely torn ligaments.

Prevention

Can I prevent a sprained finger?

You can’t always prevent sprained fingers, especially if you play sports where your fingers come into contact with a ball. Sometimes the use of buddy straps or supportive wraps may be helpful in preventing an injury. If you have balance problems or trouble walking, try using assistive devices (cane or walker) to reduce your risk of falling on your hands.

Outlook / Prognosis

What is the outlook for people with a sprained finger?

Though sprains may be painful, most mild finger sprains heal in about a week. More severe sprains require at least three to six weeks to heal fully, but may remain swollen and tender for a significantly longer period of time in some cases.

Living With

When should I see my healthcare provider about finger pain?

Tell your provider if you continue to have pain or swelling after the injury. These could be signs of a more severe injury, such as a broken finger.

A note from Cleveland Clinic

Sprained fingers are common and usually result from injury or trauma. Signs include pain, stiffness, swelling and tenderness. You can often treat mild sprains at home with RICE and medication, but more severe sprains require medical treatment. People generally recover quickly from sprains and can go back to their everyday activities within a short time.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 08/12/2021.

References

  • American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. Sprains, Strains and Other Soft Tissue Injuries. (https://orthoinfo.aaos.org/en/diseases--conditions/sprains-strains-and-other-soft-tissue-injuries/) Accessed 9/23/2021.
  • Merck Manual (Consumer Version). Overview of Sprains and Other Soft-Tissue Injuries. (https://www.merckmanuals.com/home/injuries-and-poisoning/sprains-and-other-soft-tissue-injuries/overview-of-sprains-and-other-soft-tissue-injuries) Accessed 9/23/2021.
  • Borchers JR, Best TM. Common Finger Fractures and Dislocations. (https://www.aafp.org/afp/2012/0415/p805.html) Am Fam Physician. 2012 Apr 15;85(8):805-810. Accessed 9/23/2021.

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