Finger Dislocation

A finger dislocation occurs when the tissues, or ligaments, that hold the joint together are torn. The bones then move apart, or are dislocated, out of their normal position. This causes pain, swelling, and bruising. Sometimes there is also a fracture. Once the joint is put back into place again, it will take about 6 weeks for the ligaments to heal. During this time, you should protect your finger from re-injury.

Buddy taping is a way to secure your injured finger to the one next to it. Buddy taping allows the joint to move. But it also protects it from dislocating again. Buddy tape can be left in place for up to 6 weeks.

Hand exercises may be prescribed at your follow-up visit. These can help speed healing and maintain function. In most cases you will regain full function of your finger. But it may take 12 to 18 months before all mild pain and swelling goes away and full function returns.

Home care

  • Keep your hand elevated to reduce pain and swelling. When sitting or lying down, raise your arm above the level of your heart. You can do this by placing your arm on a pillow that rests on your chest. Or your arm can be on a pillow at your side. This is most important during the first 48 hours after injury.

  • Put an ice pack on the injured area for no more than 15 to 20 minutes every 3 to 6 hours. Do this for the first 24 to 48 hours. To make an ice pack, put ice cubes in a plastic bag that seals at the top. Wrap the bag in a thin towel or cloth before using it. As the ice melts, be careful that the tape, gauze, or splint doesn’t get wet. After that, keep using ice as needed to ease pain and swelling.

  • If you have a removable splint, you may take it off to bathe and then put it back on unless instructed not to. If you have a permanent splint, cover your entire hand with 2 plastic bags. Place 1 bag around the other. Tape each bag at the top end or use rubber bands. Water can still leak in even when your hand is covered. So it's best to keep the splint away from water. If a splint gets wet, you can dry it with a hair-dryer on a cool setting. 

  • If you use buddy tape and it becomes wet or dirty, change it. You may replace it with paper, plastic, or cloth tape. Cloth tape and paper tapes must be kept dry. When re-applying buddy tape, use gauze or cotton padding between your fingers. This will prevent the skin from getting moist and breaking down, or macerating. It's very important to put padding at the web space. This is the small piece of skin that joins the bases of your fingers. Keep the buddy tape in place as instructed by your healthcare provider.

  • You may use over-the-counter pain medicine to control pain, unless another pain medicine was prescribed. Talk with your provider before taking these medicines if you have chronic liver or kidney disease. Also talk with your provider if you've ever had a stomach ulcer or gastrointestinal bleeding, or are taking a blood thinner.

  • Don't play sports or do any physical exercise until your healthcare provider says that you can.

Follow-up care

Follow up with your healthcare provider in 1 week, or as advised. Splints should generally not be left in place longer than 3 weeks to avoid stiffness and loss of joint function. It's important that you see the referral doctor. This provider can determine how long to keep your splint in place and when to begin hand exercises.

If X-rays were taken, you'll be told of any new findings that may affect your care.

When to get medical advice

Call your healthcare provider right away if any of the following occur:

  • The injured finger has more pain or swelling

  • The injured finger becomes red or warm

  • The injured finger becomes cold, blue, numb, or tingly

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