The delicate phalanges are prone to breaks

Broken fingers are one of the most common hand injuries BICMD physicians see. Though breaking a finger is a common injury that seems minor, if not treated correctly, a broken finger can cause significant functional issues for the hand as a whole that continue long term. Quick, adequate diagnosis and treatment of a finger fracture from one of our BICMD orthopedic specialists can help preserve the function of your hand and eliminate the risk of long-term pain and stiffness.

If you think you may have broken a finger, schedule an appointment with one of our BICMD physicians right away. The sooner you get an accurate diagnosis and treatment for your injury, the better your chances are for preserving the function of your hard long term.

The anatomy of the hand 

The human hand consists of 27 bones. Eight bones of the wrist, called carpals; five bones in the palm of the hand, called metatarsals; and 14 bones of the fingers, called phalanges.

The phalanges must line up exactly in each finger for the hand to function like intended. Therefore, breaking a finger is actually a major concern. Without proper treatment, a broken finger can turn into a lifetime of mobility and functionality issues for the hand.

Common Causes of Factures of the Fingers

Extending the hands to catch yourself during a fall

Slamming the finger in a car door

Jamming a finger while playing sports

Crush injuries such as dropping something heavy on a finger

Construction injuries

Broken finger symptoms 

Immediately after the injury, you will feel a sharp pain in the affected finger. The finger itself may look deformed, bent out of shape at the break, or pulled out of place at the joint if there is a dislocation (which can occur with a break or alone).

Within a few minutes of the break itself, your finger will begin to swell and bruising may appear. The swelling can be so intense that it can spread to other fingers, totally immobilizing the finger and even cutting off sensation if the swelling compresses the nerves in the finger.

Your BICMD physician may be able to diagnose your broken finger during your telemedicine appointment right away, but it may be necessary to order an imaging test such as an X-ray to confirm the diagnosis. It’s critical to know for sure whether or not the finger is truly broken in order to prescribe effective treatment.

Treatment for a fractured finger  

Once the diagnosis of a broken finger is confirmed, the treatment your BICMD provider will recommend depends on the severity and location of the break.

If the break is stable (the broken ends of the bone are still aligned) the finger will likely be put into a split that is stabilized by attaching it to the unbroken finger directly next to it. Your doctor will then advise you to rest the finger and allow it to heal for the next four weeks.

If the break is more severe and has caused the broken ends of the bones to go out of line, realignment will be the first step to getting the finger set and ready to heal. Sometimes this can be done in the office by hand, but other times, surgery may be required to realign the bones of the finger after a break.

Once the bones are realigned, the finger must be immobilized so that the break can heal. This may involve a splint as mentioned above, or it may require surgery to install pins, screws or wires to keep the finger in the correct position while new bone grows to heal the break. Surgery for a broken finger is usually done under local anesthesia. Pins, screws and wires may be removed after the finger has healed, or they may be left in place to make sure the bones do not shift later on.

Your BICMD orthopedic surgeon will choose the right course of action for your specific break. Our goal is to always use the most effective, yet most conservative approach possible when treating our patients. Surgery is only recommended when it is absolutely necessary to restore to function of the finer.

Physical therapy for broken fingers 

After your broken finger is fully healed, approximately four weeks after the initial break, your BICMD physician may recommend a course of physical therapy to help improve finger mobility and build finger strength. Common physical therapy exercises for broken fingers include squeezing a ball and doing extension movements. During physical therapy, you will also be taught to hold items in your hands with the least amount of stress on your finger joints. It’s common for patients to do two to three months of physical therapy after a finger break. Your BICMD physician can refer you to a reputable physical therapist in your area for post-surgery rehabilitation.

Complications of a broken finger 

Most of the time, a broken finger heals cleanly, with no lasting negative effects. Sometimes with a severe break, however, long-term complications may arise. That’s why it is imperative to get proper treatment for your broken finger as soon as possible. Quick, accurate treatment will  limit your chance of experiencing long-term negative side effects of a broken finger, such as:

Joint stiffness – Stiff joints are the most common complication of a broken finger. Stiff joints in the finger post-break can be caused by scar tissue forming at the site of the break.

Rotation – If the fractured finger bone rotates during the healing process, its position can become fixed and affect the finger’s ability to move and bend. You may not notice if your finger has rotated until you make a fist or try to gasp an object, in which the rotation becomes apparent. 

Nonunion – If the broken parts of the finger do not grow back together, this is called non-union. The biggest cause for nonunion is not getting treatment for the finger fracture soon enough.

Arthritis – Post-traumatic hand arthritis happens when the cartilage in the finger joints becomes damaged during the healing process of the break.