Jarred or fractured? Fixing your finger injury

Pain, swelling, bruising and stiffness of the finger are typical signs and symptoms of a jarred finger – ones that overlap with those of a fracture or dislocation – so how can you tell if your finger has undergone more than just a jarring?
Pain, swelling, bruising and stiffness of the finger are typical signs and symptoms of a jarred finger – ones that overlap with those of a fracture or dislocation – so how can you tell if your finger has undergone more than just a jarring?

Whether it’s netball, basketball or AFL you play, at some point you’ll likely have the ball hit your finger, your finger caught in an opposition’s jumper, or perhaps another body slamming against yours, bending a finger backwards or to the side in the process.

Pain, swelling, bruising and stiffness of the finger are typical signs and symptoms of a jarred finger – ones that overlap with those of a fracture or dislocation – so how can you tell if your finger has undergone more than just a jarring?

The pain scale when experiencing a jarred finger is generally around a five out of 10, according to Hand Therapist Sophie Crapper of Olympic Park Sports Medicine. “If the pain is more at a 10, it’s more likely to be a fracture.”

When to see a sports physio

“As soon as possible,” Crapper said. “The physio will be able to order X-rays to make sure there’s no fracture. It is not uncommon for patients to present to me a month or two after their injury with ongoing pain, swelling and stiffness. This delay in treatment often leads to a longer rehab and sub-optimal outcome.”

Diagnosis and Treatment

The finger’s middle joint, the ‘PIP joint’ is the finger joint most commonly injured.

There are three types of PIP joint injuries, Crapper explained, the first being a ligament sprain. This can range from a mild ‘grade 1’ tear to a complete ‘grade 3’ tear; the former is the equivalent of a jarred finger, and sometimes can benefit from splinting, or it might only need buddy taping (taping the injured finger together with a healthy finger). With treatment, it will return to normal within two weeks.

Grade 2 and 3 sprains however require two to six weeks of splinting, and exercises to prevent stiffness are a non-negotiable, she said.

An ‘avulsion fracture’ involves “the thick ligament at the front of the PIP joint [chipping] off a piece of bone,” Crapper said. A splint and hand physiotherapy usually provide successful treatment – unless the fracture is too large or ‘unstable’, in which case surgery is the best treatment option.

Dislocation of the PIP joint – sometimes in combination with a fracture is the third possibility, placing significant stress on the ligaments, Crapper said. “A dislocation is usually pretty obvious because [you’ll see that the] finger’s pointing wrong way.”

Up to six weeks of splinting is needed for a PIP joint fracture or dislocation. “The splinting is made to work best for the individual, and most people can get by with day-to-day activities with no problems.

“Often pain and swelling can persist for a few months, and some patients report using over-the-counter pain killers initially, but often the patient won’t need them.” Compression tape also helps with the pain and swelling and is part of the treatment.

If you’re itching to get back to playing sport, you should have no problems either. “I’ll either make a [customised splint specifically for wearing during a game] or show the patient how to tape their finger to protect it as much as possible,” Crapper said.

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