Busy people and athletes often get sprained fingers. A sprain happens when there is an injury to the tissues surrounding and supporting a joint. The ligaments that connect the bones together are strong structures that prevent a joint from going into an abnormal position. The capsule is less strong and acts to seal the joint from the other tissues.
What Happens When You Sprain Your Finger
The most common joint to be sprained in the finger is the PIP joint, the first joint after the knuckle (MCP joint). The ligament that is injured in a PIP joint sprain is called the volar plate. The volar plate prevents the joint from over straightening, and is damaged when the joint is forced into hyperextension.
After a sprain, the injured joint will become swollen, painful and stiff. The amount of swelling usually reflects the degree of injury. In a minor sprain, the tissues essentially remain intact and recover rapidly. To treat in this case remember RICE: rest, ice, compression, and elevation to help the pain and swelling. A sore or minor sprained finger can be "buddy-taped" to the uninjured finger next to it for extra protection.
In a more serious sprain, the tissues may be badly torn and sometimes need to be repaired surgically. The goal is to restore movement to the injured joint. X-rays are usually taken to rule out a fracture. A surgeon with expertise in hand surgery can examine your injured finger to assess for instability and to determine how severe the injury is.
In most cases, the joint will be encouraged to move straight away. This is done by using specific exercises under the supervision of a hand therapist. The swelling will reduce with time but can be helped by using compressive bandaging. Other measures may include splinting, ultrasound and massage.
Surgical treatment is not usually needed. Hand surgery may be required if one of the ligaments has been torn completely and the joint is unstable.
These injuries can take a very long time to heal. The swelling around the joint may last several months. Despite the swelling, most patients will regain a full range of movement. In the long term, a sprained joint may have an increased risk of developing arthritis. The risk does depend on the joint involved and the nature of the injury. It is critical for a person with a serious finger sprain to complete the course of hand therapy as prescribed by their hand surgeon for a good outcome to occur.
If you suspect your finger has a serious sprain, consult with one of our hand surgery doctors at our Danbury office in Fairfield County, CT. They are specially trained in conditions of the hand and fingers such as carpal tunnel syndrome, Dupuytren's contractures, nerve injuries and osteoarthritis and can help to determine a correct diagnosis and treatment plan.