Finger Dislocation Facts
Finger dislocation is a common, serious injury. It occurs when the bones of the finger are moved (dislocated) from their normal anatomic position. Finger dislocation can occur in any of the joints of any finger, but it occurs most often in the middle knuckle of the little (pinky), ring, middle, or index finger. A break in the bone (fracture) may accompany these dislocations, but they frequently happen without any breaks.
What Causes a Finger Dislocation?
Accidents can cause the application of a "jamming" force to the end of the finger, or the finger may be forcefully hyperextended. Either of these situations, or a combination of both, can result in a dislocation.
- During sports activities, a basketball or baseball may strike the tip of an outstretched finger.
- The finger might be caught in equipment, such as a game jersey or pads.
- A person may fall onto an outstretched hand.
What Are Symptoms and Signs of a Finger Dislocation?
A dislocated finger is usually obvious. The finger appears crooked, swollen, and is very painful. It may be bent upward or at strange angles. Especially thumb dislocations can appear quite dramatic. The person probably won't be able to bend or straighten the finger if it is dislocated. Any of the joints of a finger can be involved (DIP or distal interphalangeal joint; PIP or proximal interphalangeal joint; or MCP or metacarpophalangeal joint).
- With severe dislocations, there can be numbness or tingling.
- The injured finger can appear a pale color.
- The dislocation may cause a break in the skin where the injury has occurred. If this occurs, the injured person should seek medical attention immediately.
- A break in the bone may accompany the dislocation and will require prompt medical attention.
When Should Someone Seek Medical Care for a Dislocated Finger?
An individual should see a doctor at once when a person has a dislocated finger. Delaying a visit to a doctor for an injury can make final treatment more difficult and can lead to delayed healing or permanent disability.
Go to the emergency department immediately if there is any loss of sensation (numbness), if there are any open areas of skin, bone is visible or if the finger is cold, pale, or bluish in color.
How Do Health Care Professionals Diagnose and Assess a Finger Dislocation?
Your health care provider will usually ask how the injury occurred as well as general questions about your health (allergies to medications; chronic medical conditions; medications you take, etc.). The doctor will first examine the injured finger and possibly the remainder of the hand and any other possibly injured areas. Usually, he or she will then X-ray the finger to confirm the dislocation and assess for any broken bones. A health care professional will evaluate the finger and hand for tendon and ligamentous injuries that might accompany the dislocation.
What Is the Treatment for a Finger Dislocation?
Health care professionals do not recommended that a person treat a dislocated finger at home. A visit to a doctor or the emergency department is usually necessary.
- If a person has a dislocated finger, the finger will swell. To prevent further injury to the finger, immediately remove any jewelry, such as rings.
- Apply an ice pack to the injured finger and elevate the hand above the level of the heart.
What Is the Medical Treatment for a Finger Dislocation?
The doctor will realign the dislocated bones with a simple technique. This will often require a local anesthetic injection into the finger or finger joint to help decrease or stop the pain and allow the doctor to reduce the dislocation and realign the bones. The patient may also receive medications by mouth, injection, or IV to help the pain, relax the patient, and ease the reduction.
- A physician will place the injured finger in a protective splint or be "buddy taped" to the healthy finger next to it. This will assure that the dislocation does not reoccur and avoid pain and further injury from movement.
- The doctor may order a second X-ray to confirm the realignment of the finger and to check for any broken bones that may not have shown up on the first X-ray.
- Either before or after dislocation, further examination will help to establish if there are tendon injuries, joint injuries, or ligament damage.
Diagnosis of a Finger Dislocation
The use of X-rays allows physicians to look inside the body to diagnosis an injury or illness. When done for appropriate situations, X-rays are safe and beneficial. It is important that X-rays are not misused or overused because over a lifetime, a person may be exposed to a fairly large amount of cumulative radiation, and it is important than the benefit of each X-ray test be considered before it is done.
When Should Patients Seek Follow-Up Treatment for a Finger Dislocation?
- Apply an ice pack to the injured area for 20-30 minutes every three to four hours for the first two to three days, or until the pain and swelling have subsided. This should lessen the pain and swelling that results from the finger dislocation.
- Elevate the injured finger on several pillows while lying down or on the back of a couch or chair while sitting. This will help reduce swelling and the pain that results.
- The doctor may prescribe anti-inflammatory or pain medication to help control the pain of the injury. Take all medications only as prescribed by the doctor.
- In complicated dislocations or dislocations associated with fractures, the doctor may refer the patient to a bone specialist in the week or so following the injury. The specialist will be able to monitor the healing process of the finger.
- Depending on the bone dislocated and any additional injuries, a doctor will splint the finger for a shorter or longer period. The doctor may give the patient exercises to perform during the healing process, which will help strengthen the finger and reduce the chance of decreased function of the finger.
What Is the Prognosis of a Finger Dislocation? What Is the Recovery Time for a Dislocated Finger?
Health care professionals can put back most simple dislocations into their natural position easily. Full function in the injured finger will usually return. Mild or moderate discomfort or disability can continue for 12-18 months. Some permanent swelling or disfigurement of the injured joint may be expected.
Occasionally, a fragment of the dislocated joint or some surrounding tissue becomes lodged between the displaced bones. This prevents the bones from going into their natural position. Surgery may be necessary to put the bones into the correct position. Results of this surgery are usually very good, but some function may be lost.
Is It Possible to Prevent a Finger Dislocation?
Finger dislocations are usually the result of an accident, work, or sports-related, and accidents are not always preventable.
- When possible, however, avoid getting finger(s) stuck in objects such as athletic jerseys, basketball nets, and football helmets.
- Wear protective gloves when possible.
- Remove rings or other jewelry before participating in athletic events and when working with the hands, particularly around machinery.