How to Determine if a Finger Is Broken
Fractured phalanges--or broken fingers--are one of the injuries most commonly seen by emergency room physicians. But before you head to the hospital, it may be a good idea to try to determine if your finger may indeed be broken. A sprain or ligament tear will be quite painful, but they do not require trips to the emergency room. A look with a small doctor can be seen if your finger is sprained or has a ligament tear. A broken bone, on the other hand, can result in internal bleeding or other damage that requires immediate medical care.
Recognizing the Signs of a Broken Finger
Check for pain and tenderness.The first sign of a fractured finger is pain. Your experience of pain and depends on the severity of your finger fracture. After sustaining an injury to your finger, treat it carefully and keep an eye on your pain levels.
- It can be hard to identify if you have a finger fracture right away, because acute pain and tenderness are also symptoms of dislocations and sprains.
- Look for other symptoms and/or seek medical attention if you are unsure of the severity of your injury.
Check for swelling and bruising.After sustaining a fracture to your finger, you will notice acute pain that is followed by swelling or bruising. This is part of your body’s natural response to injury. After fracture, your body activates the inflammatory response followed by swelling caused by fluid released into the surrounding tissues.
- Swelling is often followed by bruising. This happens when the capillaries around the injury swell or burst in response to the increased fluid pressure.
- It may be hard to know if your finger is fractured at first, as you still may be able to move it. After you try to move your finger, swelling and bruising begin to become apparent. The swelling may also spread to other fingers or down the palm of the hand.
- You are likely to notice swelling and bruising 5-10 minutes after your first sensations of pain in your finger.
- However, minor swelling or the absence of immediate bruising may be indicative of a sprain instead of a fracture.
Look for deformity or inability to move the finger.A finger fracture consists of a segment of the bone that is cracked or broken in one or more places. The bone deformity can show up as unusual bumps on the finger or a finger that points in a different direction.
- If there are signs of misalignment, the finger is probably broken.
- You usually cannot move your finger if it is fractured because one or more sections of the bone are no longer connected.
- It is also likely that swelling and bruising makes your finger too stiff to move comfortably following any injuries.
Know when to see medical attention.Go to your nearest accident and emergency department if you think you have a finger fracture. Fractures are complicated injuries and their severity is not readily apparent from external symptoms. Some fractures require more involved treatment in order to heal correctly. If you aren't sure whether an injury is a fracture, it's better to err on the side of caution and see a doctor.
- If you have significant pain, swelling, bruising, or any deformity or decreased movement of your finger, seek medical attention.
- Children with finger injuries should always see a doctor. Young and growing bones are more susceptible to injury and to complications if those injuries aren't treated properly.
- If your fracture is not treated by a medical professional, then it is possible that your finger and hand will remain painfully stiff when you try to move your finger.
- A bone that re-knits out of proper alignment can further hinder your successful use of your hand.
Diagnosing a Broken Finger at the Doctor’s Office
Get a physical exam.If you suspect a finger fracture, seek medical attention. During a physical exam, your doctor evaluates your injury and determines the severity of your fracture.
- Your doctor will take a note of your finger’s range of motion by asking you to make a fist. She will also look for visual signs, such as swelling, bruising, and bone deformities.
- Your doctor will also manually examine your finger to look for signs of reduced blood flow to the area and nerve impingement.
Ask for an imaging test.If your doctor cannot determine during a physical exam whether you have a fractured finger, she may recommend an imaging test to diagnose the fracture. These include X-ray, CT scan or an MRI.
- X-rays are often the first imaging tests used to diagnose a fracture. Your doctor places your fractured finger between an X-ray source and an X-ray detector, then sends low-level radiation waves through your finger to create the image. This process is completed within a few minutes and is painless.
- A CT or computed tomography scan is constructed by putting together X-rays that scan different angles of an injury. Your doctor may decide to use a CT to create an image of your fracture if the initial X-ray’s results are inconclusive or if your doctor suspects that there are also soft tissue injuries related to the fracture.
- An MRI may be needed if your doctor suspects that you have a hairline or stress fracture, the kind of fracture that is produced after repeated injuries over time. MRIs produce finer details and can also help your doctor differentiate between soft tissue injuries and hairline fractures in your finger.
Ask if you need a surgical consultation.Surgical consultations may be required if you have a severe fracture, such as a compound fracture. Some fractures are unstable and require surgery in order to put bone fragments back into place with aids (such as wires and screws) so that the bone can heal properly.
- Any fracture that seriously hinders mobility and puts the hand far out of alignment likely requires surgery in order for the finger to regain articulate movement.
- You may be surprised at how difficult it is to execute everyday tasks without full use of all of your fingers. Professionals such as chiropractors, surgeons, artists, and mechanics require full use of their fine motor skills in order to accurately perform their jobs. Thus, caring for finger fractures is vital.
Treating a Broken Finger
Ice, compress and elevate.Manage the swelling and pain by icing, compressing, and elevating the finger. The faster after the injury you give this type of first aid, the better. Make sure that you are also resting your finger.
- Ice the finger. Wrap a bag of frozen vegetables or an icepack in a thin towel and apply it gently to your finger to help reduce your swelling and pain. Apply ice immediately after you sustain the injury for no longer than 20 minutes as needed.
- Compress the injury. Gently but securely wrap your finger with a soft elastic bandage to help manage the swelling and immobilize the finger. At your initial appointment with your doctor, ask if it is appropriate to keep your finger wrapped in order to reduce your risk of bringing on additional swelling and to keep from impeding movement of other fingers.
- Elevate the hand. When possible, keep your finger elevated above your heart. You may find it most comfortable to sit on a couch with your legs over the cushions and your wrist and fingers resting on the back of the couch.
- You also should not use the injured finger for everyday activities until cleared by your doctor.
Ask your doctor if you need a splint.Splints are used to immobilize your fractured finger to keep it from developing further damage. A makeshift splint may be crafted out of a popsicle stick and a loose bandage until you get to the doctor for a better wrapping.
- The kind of splint you need varies according to which finger is fractured. Minor fractures may benefit from “buddy taping,” which consists of immobilizing the injured finger by taping it to the finger next to it.
- A dorsal extension-block splint keeps your injured finger from bending backward. A soft splint is placed to keep your injured finger slightly and gently curved toward the palm and is held in place with soft fastenings.
- An aluminum u-shaped splint is an inflexible aluminum splint that keeps the injured finger from extending. It is placed on the back of the injured finger to keep it immobile.
- In more severe cases, your doctor may apply an inflexible fiberglass splint that goes from your finger to past your wrist. It's essentially like a mini-cast for your finger.
Ask your doctor if you need a surgery.Surgery is required to properly treat and heal a fracture when immobilization and time cannot effectively fix it. In general, fractures that require surgery are more complicated than those that only require immobilization.
- A compound fracture, a fracture that is unstable, loose bone fragments, and a fracture that compromises a joint all require surgery because the broken pieces need to be guided back into place in order for the bone to heal in the right configuration.
Take pain medicines.Your doctor may recommend you take non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to help manage pain associated with a broken finger. NSAIDs work by reducing negative effects of long term inflammation, and alleviating pain and pressure put on the nerves and associated tissues. NSAIDs do not inhibit the healing process.
- Common over-the-counter NSAID medications used for managing fracture pain include ibuprofen (Advil) and naproxen sodium (Aleve). You can also take acetaminophen (Tylenol), but it is not an NSAID and does not reduce inflammation.
- Your doctor may also give you a codeine-based prescription medication for short term management if you experience major pain. The pain is more likely to be worse at the beginning of the healing process, and your doctor will reduce your prescription strength as the bone heals.
Follow up with your doctor or specialist as directed.Your doctor may instruct you to make a follow-up appointment a few weeks after your initial treatment. She may repeat X-rays 1-2 weeks after the injury to see how it's healing. Make sure you keep any follow-up appointments to ensure that you're on the mend.
- If you have questions about your injury or anything else, contact your doctor's office.
Understand the complications.In general, fractured fingers heal very well after consultation with a doctor and a 4-6 week healing period. The risks for complications following a finger fracture are minimal, but it is still good for you to be aware of them:
- Joint stiffness may occur as a result of scar tissue forming around the fracture site. This can be addressed with physical therapy to strengthen the finger muscles and reduce the scar tissue.
- A section of the finger bone may rotate during the healing process, resulting in a bony deformity that may need to be addressed by surgery to help you grasp things properly.
- The two pieces of the bone may not fuse together properly, resulting in permanent instability within the fracture site. This is known as “nonunion.”
- Skin infection may occur if there are lacerations to the fracture site and they are not properly cleaned prior to surgery.
Understanding the Types of Fractures
Understand finger fractures.The human hand is made up of 27 bones: 8 in the wrist (carpal bones), 5 in the palm of the hand (metacarpal bones) and three sets of phalanges in the fingers (14 bones).
- The proximal phalanges are the longest part of the finger located closest to the palm of the hand. The intermediate, or middle, phalanges come next, and then the distal phalanges are the farthest out, forming the “tips” of the fingers.
- Acute injuries, such as falls, accidents, and sport injuries, are the most common causes for finger fractures. Your fingertips are one of the most injury-prone areas of your body because they are involved in almost every activity you partake in throughout the day.
Know what a stable fracture looks like.Stable fractures are defined by a broken bone but little to no displacement at either end of the break. Also known as a nondisplaced fracture, stable fractures can be difficult to identify and may demonstrate symptoms similar to other forms of trauma.
Know what a displaced fracture looks like.Any broken bone in which the two primary sides of the break are no longer touching or aligned is considered a displaced fracture.
Know what a compound fracture looks like.A fracture in which the broken bone has been displaced and a portion of it pushed through the skin is referred to as a compound fracture. Because of the severity of the damage to the bone and the surrounding tissue, this injury always requires immediate medical attention.
Know what a comminuted fracture looks like.This is a displaced fracture in which the bone has shattered into three or more pieces. This is often, but not always, associated with substantial tissue damage. The extreme pain and immobility of the affected limb that are often associated with this form of injury make it easier to diagnose.
QuestionCan I break my finger and still be able to bend it?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerYes. In many cases, fingers can still move even when they are broken or fractured. Depending on the severity of the injury, there is often some movement in at least parts of the finger.Thanks!
QuestionShould I put ice on my finger if it begins swelling?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerYes. Ice can help reduce swelling in the finger, but make sure not to keep it on too long.Thanks!
QuestionMy finger has been swollen for over a week, and it hurts to bend it. I am unable to apply any pressure to my joint. Could these be symptoms of a fracture?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerThey very well could be. You'd better head to the doctor and get it looked at.Thanks!
QuestionCan my finger be broken if it hurts badly, but is barely swollen?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerYes, it may be broken. See a doctor for advice.Thanks!
QuestionI've still got pain 5 months after sustaining a sporting injury to the joint on my finger. I've not had any medical treatment. Should I still have pain?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerSee a physician and get an x-ray as soon as you can. If you broke a bone, you may already have permanent damage because there was no splint or correction of the finger for proper healing.Thanks!
QuestionWhat happens if a kid breaks his finger?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerThe same things occur when a kid breaks his finger as when an adult breaks his finger. Most children will heal faster than adults, however, so in that they have an advantage.Thanks!
QuestionWhat should I do if it hurts to bend my finger back but there is no bruising?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerIt's quite normal to find bending your finger back painful, so it might not mean anything. But you should check with your doctor just to be sure.Thanks!
QuestionWill a broken finger repair itself?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerYes, over time. It's best to put a splint on it for support to make sure it heals properly.Thanks!
QuestionMy fingers aren't straight. I can't tell if my finger is broken?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerYour fingers not being straight doesn't mean that they are broken. Follow the guidelines in the article to determine if they are. If you're not experiencing the listed symptoms, your fingers are probably not broken. They could just be genetically lopsided, or sprained.Thanks!
QuestionCould I break the tip of my finger when catching a football?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerYou certainly can, and that's actually a common way of breaking a fingertip.Thanks!
I jammed two fingers without fracture for more than one month. They are still swelling and cannot bend normally. What can I do to return them back to normal function?
I injured my index finger 4 days ago, so when I bend it forward, it hurts. Is it bruised, sprained or jammed?
I bent my ring finger back and fell on it at the top joint. On the first day I could bend it now I cant, and 4 days later it hurts and is warm but no swelling. I have iced it. Could it be broken?
How do I determine whether my finger is broken if it was hit by something metal and it is swollen and stiff with pain?
I got my finger crushed at the fair. The tip of my finger the bone doesn't look connected to the other bone. Is it possibly broken?
- Regardless of the recommendations above, if you believe you have suffered a serious injury then you must seek appropriate medical care.
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