Going about your everyday life, nothing unusual and not doing anything extreme, then suddenly whether you stub or smashed finger.
Sometimes a broken finger does not look broken. Sometimes it is blatantly obvious that a finger is broken.
Fractures come in all shapes and sizes, and clearly, some of them are more serious than others.
Finger fractures are very disruptive to everyday life because they need immobilisation with use of splints or casts. It can becomes very difficult to do all those everyday things such as writing, brushing teeth, grooming, taking a bath or shower, and even putting your pants on!
Types of Finger Fractures
The most common types of finger fractures include:
Crush/Tuft fractures – These are generally or commonly slam or crush injuries. The type that occur when a finger is slammed in a door. They can also affect the fingernail, bone, and tissue. All these elements contribute to causing pain, deformity, blood pooling under the fingernail. There could be simple swelling, or bruising, worse still, the bone could stick out through the skin. Crush/Tuft fractures generally require a splint or cast. They do, however, heal very well, albeit, there may be some fingernail deformity.
Mallet finger fractures – Imagine a cricket ball hitting your fingertip at very high speed, or a door shutting fast towards you and you reach out, your fingertip takes a direct hit. That direct hit bends your fingertip to such a degree that it causes the tip of the finger to sag or droop. Healthcare professionals call this ‘extensor lag’. There will be swelling, pain and bruising. A simple splint worn around-the-clock for 4-6 weeks may be required.
Phalangeal neck fractures – These are uncommon fractures and are generally seen in children. They usually happen when the finger takes a direct hit, mostly during sports. They are painful, swell and there is usually a loss of motion in the finger. Most require surgery, usually involving the placement of pins and a cast.
Seymour fractures – This is a subtype of mallet finger fractures and is a very serious injury. A surgical procedure needs to be performed. Where they are open fractures, as in the bone sticking out, they are at risk of infection, so patients will need to take a course of antibiotics.
Volar plate fractures – Commonly called a “jammed finger” or “sprain.” The injury usually happens when the finger is bent backward too far (hyperextended). It often happens to athletes. Although it might be considered a sprain, it can cause injury to the ligament and disconnect a small piece of bone in the joint. There is likely to be swelling, pain, bruising and loss of motion. Splinting for a few days may be necessarily followed by taping. They usually heal quite quickly and successfully, but there may be evidence of the joint being be a more ‘bulky’ than the other fingers.
Phalangeal fractures – Our fingers are made up of bones called phalanges.
The image below, shows the phalanges in blue.
If you have broken one of those bones, you have a phalangeal fracture.
There are different types of phalangeal fracture.
- Avulsion fracture
- Mid-shaft fracture
- Intra-articular fracture
What to do with a broken finger
Surprisingly, thousands, may be hundreds of thousands of people use Google to learn how to treat a broken finger.
It is horrifying to read that some people post in forums and social media pages that a broken finger cannot be treated in hospitals, in the manner that broken arms are treated. Some even suggest using an ice lolly stick as a splint until it heals.
Despite what Doctor google and Sharon from Facebook says, a broken finger can be treated, and medical treatment may certainly be necessary for your finger to heal properly.
So, the important message and sound advice is ‘get medical advice as soon as possible’.
Many people think a fracture is a lesser injury than a break.
The truth is,a broken bone is also known as a fracture, yes, they are both the same thing. A fracture is a break, no more and no less.
So, how do you check to see if you have a broken finger or thumb?
There are some obvious signs, such as the bone is sticking out through your skin or bent sideways at an angle.
It isn’t always obvious though and can be very difficult to tell if a finger is broken, dislocated or badly sprained.
Unless of course you have x ray eyes.
You haven’t, so, you’ll probably need to go and have an X-ray.
In the UK we have three options or routes to go down.
Here is a quick check list.
If you have had an injury and your finger or thumb is:
- Swollen, painful, and bruised. Or.
- stiff or difficult to move.
Then in the case of any of those above, it probably isn’t urgent, but might get worse if you ignore it.
In the UK we have a couple of routes available.
You can call a free NHS number, 111 and discuss your finger or thumb injury to gain clinical advice.
You will be in good handsand get the advice you need. The advice may be to take painkillers, it may be to ice pack it, it may be to go hospital or a clinic.
Alternatively, you can visit your local urgent treatment centre. More on this below.
However. If your finger or thumb is:
- pointing out at an odd angle.
- turning blue or feeling numb.
- cut and you can see your bone through it.
- cut and your bone sticking out.
Immediate action is certainly required, and you must go to A&E.
Don’t use 999 to call for an emergency ambulance unless it is absolutely necessary such as bleeding that is heavy and is not stopping.
Urgent treatment centres, also called UTCs are GP-led clinics and many are open at least 12 hours a day, all week.
They also offer appointments that can be booked through 111 or you can go through a GP referral method.
UTC’s are fully equipped to diagnose and deal with many of the most common issues that people generally attend A&E for, but without that long wait in a busy hospital.
What happens to your broken finger in a clinic or hospital?
You will be seen by a doctor or nurse who will assess your injury and might:
- attempt to straighten your finger, but don’t worry! They may inject a local anaesthetic to numb the pain.
- put a splint your finger or put a cast around it, they may even strap it to another finger to keep it in position.
- Also, if there is a cut, they may give you a tetanus injection or prescribe antibiotics to prevent infection.
If it is a complicated break, such as broken in many places or your nerves are damaged, you may need to undergo surgery.
The doctor or nurse may advise arranging a follow up appointment to check how your finger or thumb is healing.
A finger splint is a medical device usually made from foam and lightweight metal.
They are designed to immobilise specific area of injury, not just broken fingers. They can be applied to other injuries, including, jamming injuries, trigger finger/thumb or joint stiffness.
A cast might look ‘over the top’, they can go right up to the elbow even for broken fingers, because they keep the finger and hand from moving.
A long cast gives the broken bone the best chance to of recovery and ideal for finger fractures that don’t require surgery, they are usually only worn for about three or four weeks.
In the meantime, before you head off to have your finger assess you might need to reduce any pain and swelling as well as protecting your injury.
Self Help for a Fractured Finger.
Follow the simple steps.
- Try not to move the injured finger or thumb.
- If you think it would help, tape it to the next finger.
- Raise your hand above your heart to help reduce swelling.
- Apply an ice pack oreven a bag of frozen peas, wrapped in a towel for about 15 to 20 minutes, do this every 2 to 3 hours to help reduce swelling.
- If you have a bleeding cut too, cover it with a clean dressing.
- take a painkiller, such as paracetamol. It is important that you do not take ibuprofen until a doctor has confirmed the status of your finger and it is safe for you to do so.
- Take off any rings from your affected hand if you can without causing more pain and injury.
A common questions is, “how long does it take to recover from a broken finger or thumb?”
Expect anywhere between two weeks and two months, even longer. It all depends on age, fitness, usage and of course the seriousness of the actual break
Be mindful that after it has healed, it still may be a good 3 to 4 months before full strength returns to your hand, leading to full recovery.
Once it has healed, some good old-fashioned homemade physiotherapy will be very useful, this means using your finger or thumb as normal but in addition, keep moving it to stop it getting stiff.
Ask the doctor or nurse to show you some gentle hand exercises.
It is important that you seek advice from your doctor as to when you can return to activities such as contact sports or other things that you do, which will put a lot of strain on your fingers.
You don’t need to go back to hospital or the urgent treatment centre if you have concerns such as:
- being worried that the broken finger or thumb is not healing properly.
- that the pain and swelling have not started to ease after a few days.
- it still hurts when you use the finger or thumb after the cast