A jammed finger is an injury to the proximal interphalangeal (PIP) joint, which is the joint after the knuckles in the middle of the finger, allowing it to bend in half.
The ligaments of the finger are responsible for stabilizing and holding the joint in place, preventing excessive movements.
How Does a Jammed Finger Occur?
When a force pushes the finger back towards the hand, it causes the ligaments to stretch or tear, resulting in a sprain.
This type of injury is common among athletes, especially basketball and volleyball players. It typically occurs when the individual tries to catch a ball, and the force impacts the end of the finger.
It can also happen while doing daily activities such as closing a door or a cabinet, and the finger gets squeezed or jammed.
Signs and Symptoms
The following symptoms may be experienced in a jammed finger:
- Dull pain for a mild sprain or sharp and throbbing pain for a severe joint sprain in the affected PIP joint.
- Obvious swelling in the affected PIP joint when compared to the other fingers.
- Difficulty and limited bending of the injured finger due to pain and swelling, but the patient can still bend it.
- Difficulty gripping or squeezing objects.
Sprain vs. Dislocation vs. Fracture
The pain can still be tolerated in a jammed finger, and the affected finger can still bend on the PIP joint. Although moving the joint and holding and gripping objects can be difficult, the patient can still do these activities. The swelling may also lessen or subside after a few hours.
When the force is too strong such as in a fall or a vehicular motor accident, bone fracture or dislocation can occur. A dislocated or fractured finger will look crooked and misaligned.
The patient may feel a bump, and he/she will not be able to bend the joint and grip or hold objects. If there is a fracture, the bone may protrude or may even puncture the skin. The injury will be extremely painful, and the swelling will persist for days.
Table 1: Jammed finger vs. broken finger
|Parameters||Jammed Finger||Dislocated/Fractured Finger|
|Inspection||Swelling/Redness present||Crooked /misaligned finger|
|Range of motion||Possible||Not able to bend the joint|
|Presence of Swelling||Recedes after a few hours||It lasts for hours or even days|
When to Consult a Doctor
A mild to moderate jammed finger typically heals at home through home management and mild finger exercises. However, severe sprain or those that resulted in a bone fracture or dislocation should receive medical attention to prevent permanent damage to the joint.
A jammed finger that looks crooked or misaligned, extremely painful, and very difficult to move or bend may indicate a dislocation or a fracture. A deformed finger should never be pulled as an attempt to realign it because it will only worsen the injury.
The affected finger should be splinted using common household objects to immobilize the joint until medical care is given temporarily.
If the swelling caused by a jammed finger does not subside or persists for days, and if the pain worsened and became severe, a doctor should be consulted immediately.
If a jammed finger is mild and there is no suspected fracture or dislocation, it can be easily managed and treated at home. The following are the remedies that can be done at home:
Protect the injured finger through immobilization.
- Use a splint for 1 to 2 days if the finger is very painful. A splint is a piece of metal, wood, or firm foam placed on the injured finger to stabilize it and prevent movements. This will allow the injured finger to heal and prevent further damage. However, splinting should be done for one to two days only. If done for more than two days, it may result in joint stiffness and may affect its long-term healing.
- Perform “buddy taping.” Buddy taping is taping together the injured and the uninjured fingers. The tape can be placed above and below the injured joint for more stability. The uninjured finger (buddy finger) provides support and protection to the injured finger while also allowing partial movements that help to improve the range of motion and facilitate proper healing of joint tissues.
Rest the affected hand and avoid strenuous activities, including sports.
- It is important to take a break from sports-related activities to prevent reinjury or further damage to the joint.
Apply a warm compress to facilitate healing.
- The use of ice compress has been advocated for a long time. Application of ice [for 10 minutes] in acute injury decreases the blood flow, thereby reducing the swelling, and has been used for short-term pain[strain/sprain]. However, new studies suggest that ice may prevent healing of the tissues, and a warm compress should be used instead. A warm compress should be wrapped around the injured joint for not more than 20 minutes. The temperature should be checked cautiously as it may cause burns if it is too hot.
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as Ibuprofen may be taken to manage the pain.
Gradual Physical Rehabilitation to Strengthen Muscles and Regain Functioning
- Once pain is minimal, mild and controlled exercises can be done, such as gripping exercises using a stress ball.
- Avoid movements and exercises that cause pain in the injured finger, such as heavy lifting or gripping too strongly during the healing time.
Mild jammed finger heals through self-treatment for one to two weeks. Once completely healed, it may be straightened again and return to its usual function.
If there is a suspected fracture or dislocation to the injured finger, a doctor should be sought immediately. It can be diagnosed by a trained physician through visual observation; however, an X-ray may still be ordered to evaluate the extent of the damage.
Surgery may be required to treat a fractured or dislocated finger or if the sprain is severe. This still depends on the severity of the injury and the goal of the patient.
After surgery, physical therapy intervention will be needed to improve mobility, increase hand and finger muscle strength, and restore function. Complete healing may take months and even a year for a severely injured joint.
Even in some mild cases, the swelling may persist for longer than 2 weeks, even up to a year. It is best to seek a specialist to determine the best care available. Complete healing depends on the cooperation between the doctor, the physical therapist, and the patient.
A jammed finger that is not treated properly can lead to the following complications:
- Pain and swelling in the injured joint for months, even for years, a condition called “traumatic arthritis.”
- Joint stiffness.
- Inability to straighten the injured finger permanently because of incorrect healing.
- The injured finger may become permanently deformed.