Many people have experienced the pain and swelling of a jammed finger, often while playing sports. Grabbing the ball the wrong way or driving a finger into a hard surface can strain the tendons in the knuckle. People with serious injuries should always contact a medical professional to ensure they receive the proper care, though less severe injuries may be treated at home. To treat a jammed finger at home, you should typically ice the finger, immobilize it with a splint, and use topical or oral analgesics and anti-inflammatories to reduce the pain and swelling.
The first step in treating a jammed finger is to assess the damage. Obvious deformations, immediate bruising, or a being completely unable to move the finger could be signs of a serious fracture or dislocation. In cases like these, you should use a sling to immobilize the hand and go to the emergency room immediately. If the finger is painful but can move and is free of bruising or deformities, you should be able to treat it successfully at home.
If, at any time during treatment, the finger turns very red, blue, or white, it could be a sign of a serious problem. The swelling and pain should start to decrease after a few hours or a day, but if they don't, it could be a sign of a fracture. Numbness and tingling in the finger can also indicate a problem. You should seek medical care if you experience any of these symptoms.
Patients may treat less severe injuries with the doctor-recommended RICE method: rest, ice, compression, and elevation. Typically, you should ice the finger first to reduce the pain and swelling. Adding ice to a sealable plastic bag usually makes a serviceable ice pack, and cold packs for medical use are also available at most drug stores. Don't put ice directly on your hand, because it can cause frostbite. Medical professionals generally recommend applying the ice for about 15 minutes at a time, with a 10 minute break between applications.
Rest involves immobilizing the jammed finger with a splint. Commercial ones are typically U-shaped aluminum sheaths with padding on the inside. You should gently straighten you finger and slide the sheath over it, wrapping gauze or medical tape around it to keep it in place. If you don't have a splint, you can also use wooden tongue depressors or craft sticks instead.
You may need to tape the injured finger to an adjoining healthy finger for added support; this is commonly done to treat a jammed finger that is too short to be splinted. The splint or tape prevents the finger from moving, allowing it to rest, and also provides compression, which helps reduce swelling.
Elevating the injury involves holding the hand so all of the fingers point upward. This helps excess blood and fluid drain from the injury, which may reduce the swelling. You can also rest your arm on a stack of pillows. The idea behind this is to keep the injured hand above the level of your heart, which makes it less likely that fluid will build up in the finger.
Aftercare and Pain Relief
Oral painkillers, such as aspirin or sodium naproxen, are often used along with ice to help alleviate pain. You can take a dose of most painkillers every four to six hours, though some medications may last eight to 12 hours. Sports creams that contain analgesics or warming agents may relieve muscle tension associated with the jammed digit. Applying the creams lightly helps keep them from soaking through the gauze on the splint.
Healthcare professionals often recommend switching from ice to heat treatments two days after the injury. Soaking your hand in a warm Epsom salt bath for about 20 minutes may help speed healing.
In most cases, a jammed finger heals within one to three weeks, although serious injuries being monitored by a medical professional may take up to eight weeks to heal. Don't force yourself to use the finger during healing, but let it rest. After a week or so, you can remove the splint briefly and very gently move the finger to see if it has improved at all, but if you feel anything other than mild discomfort, you should stop. If you don't notice any improvement after a week or so, it's a good idea to visit your healthcare provider. He or she may order an x-ray to make sure that the finger isn't broken.