Dr. David J. Bozentka answers your questions about jammed fingers and what to do about them.
Why should I be concerned about my jammed finger?
A “jammed” finger is a common injury due to direct force to the tip of a finger. The injury may occur during a variety of activities such as a thrown ball or a fall onto the hand. It often leads to pain, swelling and the inability to move your finger well. In general, a jammed finger means there is an injury to the middle joint of the finger, called the “proximal interphalangeal joint” (PIP joint). Ligaments, tendons or bones can be involved. Many people assume it will get better, so they delay treatment, but early treatment is important to prevent permanent stiffness and deformity in your finger.
What should I do if I have a jammed finger?
As with most joint injuries, you should initially rest, ice and elevate the finger to decrease swelling. A finger splint can be used for comfort. A light compression wrap will improve swelling, but beware of the bandage being too tight because it can limit blood flow to the finger. An evaluation by a hand surgeon should be performed as soon as possible. A thorough exam will be performed, and an x-ray will often be obtained to assess the injury.
How will my jammed finger be treated?
Treatment is based on what is injured. A sprain (ligament tear) may be a partial injury treated by buddy taping the injured finger to the finger next to it, allowing motion while the ligament heals. A complete ligament tear may require surgical repair. A dislocated joint needs to be put back into place, or “reduced.”
If it is a dislocation, it is important to determine the direction of the dislocation since the ultimate treatment is different. If the finger is displaced toward the back (dorsal dislocation), this usually can be treated with buddy taping; this is the more common dislocation. Less commonly, the finger is displaced toward the palm, a volar dislocation, and is treated with the joint splinted straight for four to six weeks. A dislocation with an associated fracture often requires splinting or surgery.
What complications can occur with a jammed finger?
An untreated jammed finger can lead to permanent difficulties. The most common complication is stiffness. A treatment team for a jammed finger often includes an occupational hand therapist to help with motion. A patient can expect the injured joint to have some noticeable swelling, and this may never resolve completely. A volar plate injury treated inappropriately can lead to a lax joint that hyperextends. A central slip injury that is not treated can result in a “boutonniere deformity.” More severe injuries in which the joint is broken and out of alignment are at increased risk for developing arthritis.
Be sure to treat your jammed finger. Visit www.HandCare.org to learn more and find a hand surgeon.
David J. Bozentka, MD, is the chief of Hand Surgery in the department of Orthopaedics at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, and the chief of Orthopaedic Surgery at Penn Presbyterian Medical Center. Bozentka is Board-certified in Orthopaedic Surgery and has a Certificate of added Qualification in hand surgery. He specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of all conditions affecting the hand, wrist and elbow in patients of all ages. His research interests focus predominantly on distal radius fractures and trauma of the upper extremity.