Broken fingers are among the most common injuries seen by doctors in the emergency room. But before you go to the hospital, it might not be a bad idea to try to determine if your finger might actually be broken. A sprain or torn ligament is quite painful, but they don't require a trip to the emergency room. A broken bone, on the other hand, can cause internal bleeding or other damage and requires immediate medical attention.
Method 1 of 4: Recognizing the Signs of a Broken Finger
Step 1. Notice pain and tenderness
The first sign of a broken finger is pain. Your pain will depend on the severity of your finger fracture. After injuring yourself, handle your finger gently and keep an eye on your pain.
- It is not easy to tell if you have a finger fracture because acute pain and tenderness are symptoms of dislocations and sprains.
- Check for additional symptoms and / or seek medical help if you are unsure about the severity of your injury.
Step 2. Check for swelling and bruises
After fracturing your finger, you will experience acute pain followed by swelling or a hematoma. This is part of your body's natural response to injury. After a fracture, your body activates the inflammatory response, which is followed by swelling caused by fluid released into the surrounding tissue.
- The swelling is often followed by a hematoma. This happens when the capillaries around the injury swell or burst in response to the increased fluid pressure.
- It may be difficult to tell if your finger is broken at first as you may still be able to move it. After you try to move your finger, swelling and bruises will start to show. The swelling could spread to other fingers or to the palm of your hand.
- You will likely notice the swelling and bruises in your finger five to ten minutes after the first pain.
- However, slight swelling or the absence of immediate bruising may indicate a sprain rather than a fracture.
Step 3. Check for deformities or the inability to move your finger
A finger fracture consists of a segment of bone that is torn or broken in one or more places. The bone deformity may show up as unusual bumps on the finger or in a finger that is pointing in a different direction.
- If there are any signs of misalignment, the finger is likely broken.
- You usually cannot move your finger if it is broken because one or more sections of the bone are no longer connected.
- It is also likely that swelling and bruises will make your finger too stiff to move comfortably after the injury.
Step 4. Know when to need medical attention
Go to the 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 treatment to heal properly. If you are unsure whether an injury is a fracture, it is better to play it safe and see a doctor.
- If you experience significant pain, swelling, bruising, or any deformity, or limited mobility of your finger, seek medical help.
- Children with finger injuries should always see a doctor. Young and growing bones are more prone to injuries and complications if those injuries are not treated properly.
- If your fracture is not treated by a doctor, it is possible that your finger and hand remain painfully stiff when you try to move your finger.
- A bone sticking out of alignment can further impede the successful use of your hand.
Method 2 of 4: Diagnosing a broken finger in the doctor's office
Step 1. Get a physical exam
If you suspect a finger fracture, seek medical help. During a physical exam, your doctor will evaluate your injury and determine the severity of your fracture.
- Your doctor will monitor your finger mobility by asking you to make a fist. He also looks for any visible signs, such as swelling, bruises, and bone deformities.
- Your doctor will also manually examine your finger to look for signs of reduced blood flow in the area and pinched nerves.
Step 2. Request an imaging test
If your doctor can't determine whether you have a broken finger during a physical exam, they may recommend an imaging test to diagnose the fracture. These include x-rays, CTs or MRIs.
- X-rays are often the first imaging test used to diagnose a fracture. Your doctor places your broken finger between an X-ray source and an X-ray detector, and then sends waves of low radiation through your finger to create the image. This process is done within a few minutes and is painless.
- A CT scan, or computed tomography, consists of putting together x-rays that scan different angles of an injury. Your doctor may decide to use a CT scan to get a picture of your fracture in case the original x-ray results are inconclusive. The same applies if your doctor suspects that there are also soft tissue injuries associated with the fracture.
- An MRI may be needed if your doctor suspects you have a hairline crack or stress fracture. This is a type of fracture that develops over time from repeated injuries. MRIs produce finer details and can also help your doctor differentiate between soft tissue injuries and hairline fractures in your finger.
Step 3. Ask if you need to see a surgeon
You may need to see a surgeon if you have a severe fracture, such as a mixed fracture. Some fractures are unstable and require surgery. The bone fragments are put back into place with aids (such as wires and screws) so that the bone can heal properly.
- Any fracture that seriously impairs mobility and displaces the hand a long way requires surgery to restore the finger to free movement.
- You will be surprised how difficult it is to perform everyday tasks without using all of your fingers. Professionals such as chiropractors, surgeons, artists, and mechanics need the full use of their fine motor skills in order to accurately do their jobs. It is therefore essential to treat finger fractures.
Method 3 of 4: treat a broken finger
Step 1. Freeze, compress and lift
Manage the swelling and pain by freezing, compressing, and lifting your finger. The sooner you use the type of first aid after the injury, the better. Make sure to also rest your finger.
- Ice the finger. Wrap a bag of frozen vegetables or an ice pack in a thin towel and gently place it on your finger to reduce your swelling and pain. Apply the ice as needed immediately after sustaining the injury, for no more than 20 minutes.
- Compress the injury. Gently but firmly wrap your finger in a soft, elastic bandage. This helps to bring the swelling under control and to keep the finger still. At your initial doctor's appointment, ask if it is appropriate to keep your finger wrapped. It is said to reduce the risk of causing additional swelling and affecting the movement of other fingers.
- Put your hand up. If possible, keep your finger raised above your heart. You might find it extremely comfortable to sit on the couch with your legs over the pillows and your wrist and fingers on the back of the couch.
- You should also not use the injured finger for day-to-day activities until your doctor gives you the go-ahead.
Step 2. Ask your doctor if you need a splint
Splints are used to immobilize your broken finger to keep it from further damage. A makeshift splint could be tinkered with a popsicle stick and a loose bandage until you come to the doctor for a better bandage.
- The type of splint you will need will vary depending on which finger is broken. Smaller fractures may benefit from "buddy taping", which consists of immobilizing the injured finger by taping the finger next to it.
- A dorsal extension splint prevents your injured finger from bending backwards. A soft splint is placed to hold your injured finger slightly and gently curved towards the palm of the hand and held in place by soft fasteners.
- A U-shaped aluminum splint is an immovable aluminum splint that prevents the injured finger from stretching. It is placed on the back of the injured finger to keep it immobile.
- In more severe cases, your doctor might install a rigid fiberglass splint that goes from your finger to behind your wrist. It's essentially a miniature cast for your finger.
Step 3. Ask your doctor if you need an operation
Surgery is needed to properly treat and heal a fracture when immobilization and time cannot effectively repair it. In general, fractures that require surgery are more complicated than those that only require immobilization.
A mixed fracture, an unstable fracture, loose bone fragments, and a fracture affecting a joint all require surgery. The fragments must be put back into place for the bone to heal in the correct order
Step 4. Take pain medication
Your doctor may recommend taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, which will help relieve the pain that comes with a broken finger. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs work by reducing the negative effects of long-term inflammation. They relieve pain and the pressure put on the nerves and connected tissues. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs do not interfere with the healing process.
- Common over-the-counter non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs used to manage fracture pain include ibuprofen (Advil) and naproxen sodium (Aleve). You can also take acetaminophen (Tylelol), but it is not a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory and does not reduce inflammation.
- Your doctor may also give you a prescription codeine-based medication to use for a short period of time if you have very severe pain. The pain will likely increase as the healing process begins, and your doctor will reduce the prescribed strength as the bone heals.
Step 5. Follow up with your doctor or specialist as directed
Your doctor may instruct you to schedule a follow-up appointment a few weeks after your initial treatment. He could repeat the x-ray a week or two after the injury to see how it heals. Make sure to keep all follow-up appointments to make sure you are on the mend.
If you have any questions about your injury or anything else, contact your doctor's office
Step 6. Understand the complications
In general, broken fingers heal very well after a visit to the doctor and a four to six week healing period. The complication risks that follow a finger fracture are minimal, but it is still good for you to be aware of them:
- Joint stiffness could occur as a result of scar tissue that forms around the fracture site. This can be addressed with physical therapy to strengthen finger muscles and reduce scar tissue.
- A section of the finger bone could twist during the healing process, resulting in deformity. This needs to be addressed by surgery so that you can grip things properly.
- The two pieces of bone may not connect properly, resulting in persistent instability within the fracture site. This is known as "unorganized".
- Skin infections could occur if there are flesh wounds at the break and it is not properly cleaned prior to surgery.
Method 4 of 4: Understanding the types of fractures
Step 1. Understand finger fractures
The human hand is made up of 27 bones: eight in the wrist (carpal bones), five in the palm (metacarpal bones), and three sets of finger bones in the fingers (14 bones).
- The proximal finger bones are the longest parts of the fingers and closest to the palm of the hand. Next are the intermediate or middle finger bones. The distal finger bones are outermost and form the "tips" of the fingers.
- Acute injuries, such as falls, accidents, and sports injuries, are the most common causes of finger fractures. Your fingertips are one of the most injury-prone areas of your body because they are affected by almost every activity you do during the day.
Step 2. Know what stable fractures look like
Stable fractures are defined by a broken bone and little to no displacement at either end of the break. Also known as a non-displaced fracture, stable fractures can be difficult to spot and show symptoms similar to other forms of injury.
Step 3. You need to know what a displaced fracture looks like
Any broken bone where the two primary sides of the break are no longer touching or in line is considered a displaced fracture.
Step 4. You need to know what a mixed fracture looks like
A fracture in which the broken bone has been displaced and part of it has been pushed through the skin is called a commingled fracture. Because of the severity of the damage to the bone and surrounding tissue, this injury always requires immediate medical attention.
Step 5. You need to know what a broken rubble looks like
This is a displaced fracture in which the bone has been shattered into three or more pieces. This is often, but not always, associated with significant tissue damage. The extreme pain and immobility of the affected limb that are often associated with this type of injury make diagnosis easier.