Broken finger

Introduction

A broken finger is a common injury that usually takes four to six weeks to heal.

A break or crack in a bone is also known as a fracture.

How do I know if it's broken or just injured?

It can be hard to tell if a finger is broken, dislocated or just sprained, as the symptoms tend to be the same – the finger will be swollen, painful and stiff.

Check whether your finger looks deformed. If part of the finger is pointing in a different direction, the bone is probably broken or dislocated (a dislocated finger, where the bone has moved out of position, usually looks deformed at a joint such as the knuckle).

A broken or dislocated finger may also look bruised (where the tiny blood vessels have broken), and you will feel a sharp pain when you touch it.

If you've just sprained the finger, it means you've stretched the ligaments (bands of tissue that hold the bones together at the joint). The finger shouldn't look deformed or bruised and the pain and swelling will eventually subside. If you think it might be sprained, avoid using the finger and wait to see if the pain and swelling gets better over the next day or so. Learn more about sprains and strains.

If you think you've broken or dislocated it...

If you think you've broken or dislocated your finger, you should go to your nearest minor injuries unit (MIU) or accident and emergency (A&E) department.

It is better to go to a MIU if possible, as this will allow A&E staff to concentrate on people with serious, life-threatening conditions and will save you a potentially long wait.

On your way to the clinic or hospital, you can do a couple of things to help your finger:

  • Make a temporary splint by putting a pen or lollypop stick – or something similar – next to the finger and wrapping something around this and the finger to stabilise it.
  • Hold ice wrapped in a cloth to the finger. This will help reduce swelling and pain.

Fixing the fracture

A suspected broken finger will need to be X-rayed to confirm whether there is a fracture.

If it is fractured, the bone will need to be moved back into place – a procedure known as reduction.

You will be given an injection of local anaesthetic to numb the area and doctors can often realign the bone through the skin without making any cuts.

The finger may then need to be fixed in a splint or plaster cast, or may just need to be strapped to the finger next to it (known as 'buddy taping'). This will hold the bone in position as it heals.

Occasionally, if the fracture is severe, surgery is needed to stabilise the broken bone. This involves fixing the bone with small wires or plates and screws.

After care

Most people will leave the clinic or hospital with a dressing and a splint. It's important not to disturb the splint as this is holding your fractured finger in position. Try to keep the dressing clean, to prevent infection.

Try not to use the hand until your follow-up appointment with the specialist, which should be about a week later. At this follow-up appointment, the specialist will want to check that the bone fragments are still aligned and healing in the correct position.

Your finger will take about four to six weeks to heal.

It's important to keep the finger moving as soon as it has healed – if you keep it splinted for too long, the joint will become stiff and your finger will become harder to move. You may need to speak to a physiotherapist for advice on some gentle hand exercises to keep the finger moving.

Last updated: 10 January 2013